Question 7 by Richard Flanagan [8/10]

Australian novelist Richard Flanagan never repeats a story and this can make reading him a hit-and-miss affair. This time around, the effect is wondrous: Question 7 is a dazzling, weird creature, an extended memoir/reflection/narrative, written in swift bursts of prose. It conflates a key event in his life, a near-drowning, with Leo Szilard, one of the inventors of the atomic bomb, with the horrors inflicted by the wartime Japanese on his father, with the Hiroshima/Nagasaki horror bombings, with H. G. Wells trysting with Rebecca West, with the brutality in Tasmania’s history, and quite a bit else. Employing rhymical prose either savage or contemplative, Flanagan examines morality in the age of modern warfare and the nuclear shadow, the legacy and memories of family, the nature of trauma and healing through country, and the fundamental purposes of life. The raw power of his writing about humanity’s evils seized me by the throat. Question 7 is not for everybody, for it provides no easy narrative journey, nor any simple resolution, but it is a fine work indeed by one of our most spellbinding authors.

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