With his latest genre-bending book, Richard Flanagan has crafted a profound meditation on personal and collective history that stands alone in his distinguished oeuvre. Question 7 channels the Booker Prize winner's signature lyrical prose into a hypnotic fusion of memoir, imagination, and historical forces that shaped his existence.
Weaving a daisy chain through time and space, Flanagan begins at a Japanese love hotel and ends beside a river in his native Tasmania. En route, he delves into the affair between H.G. Wells and Rebecca West, the physics behind the atomic bomb, his father's grim wartime experiences as a POW near Hiroshima, and his own brush with death as a young man trapped in wild rapids.
As one of the great writers of our modern landscape, Flanagan is able to construct narratives that endure and sit in the memory with such vivid detail and control. His Booker prize-winning The Narrow Road to the Deep North catapulted him to international success, and this new offering solidifies his position at the top.
At its philosophical core, Question 7 contemplates the butterfly effect of history and the stories we tell ourselves about the past. Flanagan argues passionately that while cold facts remain, memory is subjective, shame inevitable across generations. Through lyrical vignettes, he evokes his lifelong struggle to reconcile personal trauma with Tasmania’s legacy of colonial violence.
Befitting such ambition, Flanagan’s prose proves hypnotic and dazzling in scope. He writes with profound clarity, leavening painful revelations with moments of levity and grace. While tackling thorny moral questions, his compassion lights the way to a possible reconciliation between opposing forces – wrongdoers and victims, settlers and Indigenous tribes. However imperfect, words become the bridge.
Some passages in Question 7 can affect so deeply that one may need to pause for breath, gripping the book as if it were a lifeline. Such visceral emotion testifies to Flanagan’s singular power to alchemize historical fact and family history into a transcendent tribute to the enduring nature of love. He has crafted a genuine literary magic trick, proving imagination can be as revelatory as any document.
Both timeless and urgently topical, Question 7 stands among the most moving non-fiction published this year. I'll be returning to these luminous pages for the insights they offer into Australia’s fraught history and the intricacies of identity. Most miraculously, Flanagan transforms profound personal trauma into a universal meditation on the stories that shape human lives across borders of time and technology. Pick up this book to have your heart opened and your mind expanded.
Reviewer: Chris Reed