‘I did not wish to die. I was 21 … But death was choosing me’: author Richard Flanagan on the accident that nearly killed him

At first I thought I would escape easily. But then the river flooded into the kayak, filling it in seconds with the force of tons of rushing water, the kayak began sagging and the fibreglass behind my seat cracked. The boat folded. The front half sank to the riverbed dragging me down with it, and I felt myself disappearing beneath the rapid. Behind my back the broken stern splayed upwards towards the air, braced by the drop’s ledge, jamming the kayak in the rapid. The rounded front deck flattened onto my legs from the river’s force, trapping my knees. The overwhelming power of the water against my back pushed me up off the kayak seat so that I wasn’t sitting but hovering above it, fixed in place by my jammed, crushed legs.

The river was now rolling over me. A black plume above my head transformed into a cascading flume of aerated white water beyond it with a small air pocket forming in front of my face, all that would keep me alive for several hours.

I quickly discovered that if I allowed the river-pour pushing at my back and head to press me too far forward, the river would slam me face-first on to the deck of my flattened kayak, my air pocket would vanish and, if I was unable to get back upright, I would drown. But if I leant too far back the river would similarly slam me face-up into its flow and I would drown that way.

It required all my strength to defy the river with my body as if I was a boulder forcing the river to divert around me. But I wasn’t a boulder. I was like one of those bowing, thrumming sticks stuck just below the surface of running water, vibrating violently until it abruptly breaks and vanishes into a small vortex.

I tried to weigh my rapidly worsening options. Except I couldn’t think of any. Young and stupid as I was, I knew my strength was finite. The river was not.

I had to abandon the boat. I frantically tried to pull the kayak’s collapsed deck up a fraction, so that I might free my knees and legs and thereby escape. It was impossible. I felt my body quickening, ripe for some explosion of energy I could find no opportunity to detonate. Only after every physical contortion was tried and then tried again and found to be hopeless did it dawn on me.

I was trapped.

My only hope now was other people but there was no hope there. I was the only guide. The rafters were friends but none had any white-water experience or would know how to mount some sort of rescue in the middle of a raging rapid. Only one, P—, an accomplished rock climber, had outdoor experience. But P— was not a river person.

I was alone.

No way out meant – and the knowledge was slow in forming because it was so extraordinary that for a time I could not frame it – it meant I could die. And the idea of dying was astonishing to me. It made no sense.

And yet it did.

I knew my entrapment was exactly how kayakers of that era died – one had just the previous week on the Franklin, on a rapid called the Pig Trough. When shooting steep drops the pointed bows of the long kayaks of the time would wedge under submerged rocks, the kayak collapsing in on the kayaker, leaving their legs pinned into the flattened front. And the trapped kayaker, in the middle of a fall, beyond the reach of human help, would quickly or slowly drown.

After what felt the longest time, what felt an hour or more but was perhaps only minutes or perhaps was hours, a face miraculously shaped out of the river and burst into the air pocket next to me.

It was P—!

I was overjoyed. He was somehow dangling from a rope in the drop, suspended in the river’s violent flow by the others who, he now told me, were on a small island upstream anchoring the rope. He had organised them and contrived this way to reach me.

I explained the need to free the boat. But after he found a precarious footing and tried, he couldn’t shift it. Nor could he free my body. The force of water, the difficulty of him getting a solid footing, everything conspired against a rescue. In those days there was nothing in the way of rescue tools or equipment or knowledge. There was nothing that P— could have used to saw me out of the fibreglass kayak. Nor, though he tried, could he break it.

With a fierce determination he tried to prise the kayak loose of the boulder shelf in which it was wedged. He tried to drag the kayak free. He tried to haul me out of the kayak. Over and over, he would disappear under water and try to lift the kayak so that I somehow might be able to free my trapped legs, a feat, were it possible, that would have required superhuman strength. When one method failed yet again P— would turn to another, sometimes with a calculated variation, sometimes in a desperate fury. He refused to stop trying. I really don’t remember the many ways he tried. I only remember that none worked. He was a strong man, but the force of the river violently bearing down on us made his task impossible.

I could not be freed.

Between these efforts he would sometimes leave the air pocket and somehow disappear upriver. Each time he returned it was clear to me that he was losing strength. Over the hours of his increasingly desperate efforts, the cold took its toll on even his determined courage. He was wearing only a thin long-john wetsuit, rendered irrelevant by the way the rapid would force open gaps around his neck and shoulders and cold water pour in, negating the neoprene’s insulating effect and chilling his body.

So it went for several hours.

Flanagan kayaking a Franklin River rapid many years after his near-death experience. Photograph: Courtesy of Richard Flanagan

I say several, but I have no idea. I grew weaker. I began to struggle holding myself upright against the force of the river. At some point P— returned with some ropes which he tied around my chest and shoulders. In this way my torso was lashed in place, trussing me up like a chicken, with the rafters upriver holding the ropes firm to ensure I wouldn’t flop forward to my death. There was nothing they could do to stop me flopping backwards.

P— disappeared again only to return with another rope and another idea. The rafters upstream on the island would drag me out of the boat with the rope, pulling me back up the drop and out of the kayak.

The rope was tied around me. P— disappeared, the rope abruptly tensed and tightened as those far upstream tried to wrench my body out of the kayak with sheer brute force. But I was anchored by my trapped legs.

The effect was excruciating. When they began pulling hard the ropes ripped at my immovable shoulders and chest. As my body was violently stretched by several people my torso and head were pulled backwards and under the water plume. There I had to keep my mouth shut or the water would drown me. I had to hold my breath and hope they would not go pulling so long that I ran out. But rather than pulling me free, my rescuers served only to jam my legs further by pulling my thighs and knees hard up against the kayak’s collapsed cockpit coaming. My legs felt as if they were being torn apart in a merciless, one-sided tug-of-war. My frame could only extend but not move. Agonising pain shot through me, my arms, my shoulders, my hips and knees. When the ropes went slack, I had to fight desperately to pull my torso and head out of the river’s pour and back upright into the air pocket.

There were more attempts. After each failed in turn, P— would again try securing my body with a different system of roping, seeking to flatten the angle of my body, to get better purchase, to ease my pain, to somehow render the impossible possible. I only remember the agony repeating itself, over and over. But my legs were too tightly trapped, nothing worked, the pain was worsening, and I grew colder and weaker.

I became aware that something was leaving me. It was a very concrete sensation. It was leaving me and it was also me that was leaving, rising, leaving the river, rising into the gorge, into the sky. It was exquisitely peaceful and calm there. There was no pain. There was no fear.

Looking down I noticed the rescuers far below, haplessly perched on a rock midriver, upstream of the fall in which a coloured helmet could be made out beneath the rushing river water. I knew, of course, that it was me. But it was also not me, because I was in the sky.

And with that, I was suddenly aware that I was leaving my body.

Below, they were now straining on the ropes that held me aloft, a still-living marionette, preventing me from flopping forward and drowning, but only for so long, only until with my strength spent my head lolled back and unable to pull it upright my mouth filled with the river and my throat filled and my lungs filled and I drowned. Something was leaving the me far below that was no longer me. Something was happening that had already happened and would forever after continue happening.

And then with a rush I abruptly fell back into the pain, the excruciating struggle to hold my head at the correct angle. I fought to hold it just so. I fought to hold me. So it began, the struggle between my body and me. But I was breaking, leaving, and each time I left it became that much harder to return.

I used the weight of existence to return. The crushing, punitive gravity of living, the impossible heaviness of reality, I used the all-consuming pain that I had somehow left to come back and hold me to the wet black rocks inside the roar of the rapid, the heightened, alive smell of heavily oxygenated air to try to stop that something that was not me and was me from rising and leaving. It had an inescapable lightness and my heaviness, the heaviness of the world and the heaviness of my pain, seemed ugly and stupid in comparison. It kept rising and rising and why should it and me with it not rise? The lightness of death seemed an irrefutable reproach to such weight.

I tried not to think of my mother and father. I felt shame, unspeakable shame, as if the fact of my dying was a betrayal of them in some fundamental, inescapable way. I found myself summoning the image of J—’s face to fill the water in front of my eyes, even though J— and I were finished, even though there really hadn’t been that much between us in the first place, it was J—’s sweet face that was now everywhere in the water pouring over me.

To see them, my parents, to call for my mother would have been the end, and so instead I called J—’s name, saw her face fill the sky, the world, and called J—’s name over and over so that I would not call for my mother and die. To call for my mother would have so seemed like the end it would have been the end, I was sure of it then and I am sure now, decades later, that I could not admit it was the end, that I could not call for my mother, that this river, these rocks, this gorge and the narrow cliffs bounding it were to be my grave.

And yet I knew I would, and soon.

A subsonic thudding from above shuddered the water and throbbed through me. I realised there must be a helicopter hovering just above the gorge. I knew without knowing that I was being filmed for the evening news. Or perhaps P— told me. The thuds came and went and later returned. I knew without seeing it the story they were creating. I had seen it too many times before. A supper-time snuff story.

I am not sure if that’s when I began screaming or if that was not possible with the water. I think I did or must have. I was so frightened. I feared people would know it and think less of me. I wasn’t the man I wanted them to think I was, nor even the man I pretended myself to be. I felt seen by the world and in the eyes of the world I was a frightened worm, nothing. Given no one could see or hear my humiliation except P—, it is strange that I would care. But I did. Perhaps we never stop caring.

As the river coursed over me panic began unravelling me. I had built myself up from a child into an absurd idea that went by my name but the river washed all that away. I was a hollow lie. What remained was just flesh. I wasn’t human. I was a terrified animal awaiting death. It was not possible to me that I might die. I did not wish to die. I was 21. At 21 you choose things. You control them. But I was not in control. Death was. Death was choosing me. I was tormented by the knowledge I was to die in this way, I was very conscious that I would never see the people I loved again and that they would never see me. The wrongness of this tormented me, as if I were responsible. I understood now, after all P—’s ever more desperate efforts, that any attempt to be freed was futile. I wasn’t brave or stoic. I gave in to the pain which I had fought to keep at bay. The river washed away any dignity. Fear ate me. It was a fear such as I had never known, a fear that was both physical and spiritual, a desolation as large as the universe into which I was now vanishing.

The river was washing me away.

P— was close to spent. I could sense him weakening, his efforts lacking the brute animal power of his first attempts. He would have been in the early stages of hypothermia. His initial optimism that he could free me had thinned to a dour refusal to give up. Beyond, I sensed a chilling of the wet air and a darkening of the water. The light was leaving the gorge and it was passing into late afternoon. All I could think was that soon it would be night. I wanted it over.

I kept drifting up into the sky where I was safe and not in pain or fear, and each time it was that much harder to find a way back into my tormented body. I told P— to have them pull him upriver and then to swim back down and as he plunged over the drop to grab my torso and roll me forward with enough force to break both my legs. That way, with my legs broken, he might be able to pull my trapped body free.

At first, he didn’t understand. He thought I was incoherent. Perhaps it wouldn’t have worked. I don’t know if it was even possible physically. It was most likely a ludicrous idea. All I know is that was the only idea, the only hope I had left. There wasn’t much time. We were near the end and snapping my trapped legs was our last hope.

Finally, he said he couldn’t do that.

That’s when I told him.

And only when I heard myself saying it did I know it was true.

I am going, I said.

They were my words. I hadn’t understood what was happening until I heard myself saying them.

I was dying.

But P— didn’t seem to accept what I was saying. It is a very strange feeling when you begin to die, when you find yourself existing between both worlds, suspended between life and death, and death is infinitely attractive, gentle, light, and you are aware of this thing within you leaving.

I am going, I said once more.

And it was true. The power of death was advancing within me and the power of life was rapidly ebbing. Whatever was me kept rising, lifting, and I could no longer fight both the weight of the river, this heaviness of reality and this growing lightness that was taking me to where I was not suffering. Somehow P— finally understood. And once more he disappeared from the air pocket. I realised he was gone, that he could not help, that much as he had tried it was beyond him.

I could still see J— and I tried to hold on to her after he disappeared, but then she too was gone and I was alone for the longest time, and beyond, I knew, lay a river, which opened out soon enough into a larger river and then a harbour and then a sea. I saw the river in its entirety and the sea in its infinity. I wanted to go forward into it and join with the sea. It seemed necessary, it seemed welcome. It seemed like hope even if it was despair. I wanted to return to the river and flow into the sea. I knew I couldn’t stay where I was. That was intolerable. One further second was beyond human endurance. I was breaking. I was disintegrating. Much longer and I would not be whole. I was ready to return to the sky and the sea.

I heard P— say he would try now, he was not gone, he was still there, he hadn’t left at all. But he was very weak. He had done everything that he could and more. Perhaps it is not possible to break legs so easily. Perhaps it is. To this day I have no idea. Something was leaving me and I felt something starting to rise out of me like an untethered balloon. Try as I might, I couldn’t catch the string, I knew I couldn’t pull that strange thing back. Everything that could be done to save me had been done. I was dying and I knew I was dying. I wanted P— to give up and leave me. I did not want him with his dour determination, his ridiculous hope. I did not want any more pain. I wanted to beg him to leave me alone to die. But he had done so much for me. It felt wrong to tell P— he couldn’t try, given I would be very soon gone.

P— reached under the trapped kayak. Once more he tried to shift it as he had tried in vain to for so long. Only his strength was gone. The sheer volume of water pressing down, the angle of the kayak and the way it was jammed, all had made the task impossible from the moment the kayak collapsed in on my legs. I was too far gone to tell him it was pointless.

But he would not give up.

Ever so slightly the boat shifted. The kayak that had, hours before, been beyond his powers and perhaps anyone’s to lift now, hours later, when he was exhausted, somehow moved. And then it slipped back. My legs remained trapped. I was not disappointed. My senses were dulled, slowed, and I had another destination and it no longer concerned me that it was impossible. It just was. The boat had moved, but not enough. P— tried again.

The boat rose a fraction for a second time. But this time P— managed to hold it there, to stop it slipping back, and then, somehow, he lifted it further. To this day I can only think this: there was something miraculous about it. At that very last moment he had found some superhuman strength. Each movement was small, but the boat kept rising. Perhaps he feared if he let the boat slip back he would not be able to repeat what was now happening. Again, he held, again he lifted, and with a power he didn’t have P— kept on.

‘Hit by the full force of the rapid with nothing to now anchor me I was thrown violently forward.’ Photograph: Matthew Newton/The Guardian

The boat felt as if it were suddenly floating free but I knew this was an illusion. It was only P— holding it there and we had at best a few moments before it became impossible for him to hold it any longer. The ropes around my shoulders once again tore into my flesh and as I cried out my head was dragged back into the river’s pour-over and my mouth was filling with water and I was drowning and still P— kept lifting and lifting and the boat kept rising. My knees suddenly came loose and my legs with them and the ropes went slack. I still remember vividly as my body twisted and I popped out of the kayak like a cork from a champagne bottle. Hit by the full force of the rapid with nothing to now anchor me I was thrown violently forward.

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I found myself falling through water, rolling and tumbling as I dropped over boulders with the fury of the rapid tossing my limp body hither and thither, smashing it into rocks, lifting it, dropping it, pulling it deep down into boils, far beneath into the darkness. When I surfaced in a run of waves in the middle of the river, groggy, buffeted, unbelieving, I heard voices yelling out.

But when I closed my eyes in relief, to my terror I was still trapped in the rapid – and with it the water, the chill, the pain, the terror, the cacophony of the rapid in which I was entombed. When I opened them I was free, floating down the river. I was confused. I could only understand what I saw. I thought it was one final trick of my mind. I didn’t dare close my eyes, terrified that I would return to what I feared was reality. I thought I was dead and this was some final vision, a last, cruel trick of a disintegrating mind.

People were scrambling over rocks towards me, yelling to me. I felt only numbness. I was unable to swim or acknowledge them as they rushed to me. My gear was somehow all ripped off me. I was naked. My body washed out of the waves and caught in a large eddy swirled towards the shore.

I remember staring at a slow-moving paisley of white river spume around my body and my body one more spiral unravelling. I must have floundered or swum, but I don’t think so. Someone was dragging me into shore. I discovered I could not stand. My legs didn’t work. An arm didn’t work. There seemed to be people everywhere, excited words, serious words being quickly exchanged, important decisions being made, and yet at the same time everything seemed still and serene, as if the world and everything in it had stopped. Arms picked me up, held me, but I was only vaguely aware of them, of my shame; I was suddenly very conscious of being naked, of my shrivelled, tiny cock and aware that there was nothing I could do about it, that the glistening bronze stones and boulders studding the river were still and the water was not and I was not sure I was alive or if this was a dream and I was already dead, a lie of the mind in which I was being carried up a steep incline, through dense rainforest and then I was atop a cliff and hovering next to it a helicopter into which I was half passed, half thrown over the abyss into arms that wished to hold me.

None of it meant anything. Every time I closed my eyes I was back in the rapid and I knew all this – my rescuers, the chopper, my nakedness – was just a hallucination, the most bitter of sweet dreams.

I never really talked to P— again. P— saved my life and I had nothing I could say to him. There was no enmity nor the slightest hint of a quarrel. We just stopped mixing. I saw him a few years ago and told him I was sorry for that. He seemed to understand. Any form of gratitude for having your life saved feels inadequate and false. P— is not a man for false emotion. Perhaps that was wrong of me. Some things though are large, too large for any of us.

I saw J— one night in a crowded pub. I had been drinking and I tried to tell her how she had helped save my life. Perhaps I had been drinking too much or perhaps J— had. Perhaps it was impossible to explain. I told her but I could not explain any of it. I wanted to thank her. J— was kind and perhaps she understood or perhaps she didn’t or perhaps no one can. Perhaps no one can ever understand that you are here but not here, that there is a moment that bisects your life – cleaves your life in half to be exact – when you are leaving and know if you do leave you will never return.

I had returned.

That was all.

It was a solitary, incommunicable knowledge.

Finally, we smiled at each other and left, ending as we had begun so many years before, in mutual incomprehension.

Everything and everybody became to me as if seen from a vast distance, as if they were inscrutable inexplicable insects doing inscrutable inexplicable insect things unaware that the very next moment they might be swatted or squashed. I had stopped seeing people as people. For the longest time I was still far above the river. I liked people who didn’t want to talk about it. Because there was nothing to talk about. There were no words. That’s the thing about words: they are not the same thing as life. We just pretend. And I couldn’t.

I went to see places I had thought I would never see again. I went to see people I thought I would never see again. It was such a comfort to be allowed to sit in their homes, I sat in their small kitchens, their tired lounges, their blighted back yards and said little or nothing, warmed by the immense human goodness of others. I was astonished by the small everyday acts of kindness too easily dismissed as everyday.

I was astonished and soothed, and for the first time I heard their stories of love that existed beyond their asides and anecdotes and opinions, that resided in their food and drink and worn chairs and scratched tables and in their touches, their stolen looks, their averted eyes. It’s a comfort it’s a blessing, as my mother would say. No comma. The indescribable warmth of laughter the incandescent human comfort of being alive with others. The blessing of everything that lives everything that lives is holy.

No comma no commas ever a world without punctuation fences gates trespassing signs for a time that’s where I lived there a borderless world there with stunned gratitude there

After a time these feelings faded.

I fell from the sky.

Commas returned, full stops. And with them fences, partitions, borders, the razor wire of relationships. But the memory stayed. The memory never left. Life thrills to life.

The doctors came and went. It felt more out of human curiosity than medical need, and fair enough. They were young and keen to know what it was like. I had no idea. I had been choppered to the mining town of Queenstown. I had been alive and now I was dead dreaming I was alive, or I was alive dreaming I was dead dreaming I was alive.

Mmmm, I said, mmm.

I was an object of interest having survived, but having survived there was little demonstrably wrong with me. As far as the doctors could see, I was alive, not dead, and I would live. The wounds would be stitched, the problems with my limbs – the damaged nerves, one leg and one hand as good as useless – these were transitory and would recover soon enough. My head was another matter, still stuck screaming in a distant wild river, but that was of no consequence. The nurses talked a little. There were questions about my leg injuries. There was curiosity about what it was like. I didn’t know. I was still there. One doctor talked in an animated way about a corpse still in the hospital morgue, a kayaker who had drowned the week before on the Franklin. He wanted to see my leg wound, now stitched. The dead kayaker, he said as though staring at a spider in a bottle, had exactly the same leg injuries.

Mmmm, I said, mmm.

At one point I was him, cold and marmoreal white in the morgue. Every other time I closed my eyes though I was just me, back, screaming, trapped in the drop drowning. It was extraordinary: I shut my eyes and I was immediately in another world. The pain was real, the cold was real, the water all over me was real, the deafening noise of the rapid real, I was forever wet and chilled to the marrow, and the terror was absolute. The only thing that wasn’t real was the hospital. The hospital was no more than the tormenting dream of a man who had died in a river.

The sensation of being trapped was not a nightmare but an inescapable, perpetual reality. My uncontrollable fear was in the nature of undeniable knowledge, as real to me as the door handle you turn, the chair in which you sit, the bed in which you lie. The only escape was to open my eyes and, once opened, not close them. I was dry and safe and warm and alive if I could only believe it. I could not. Therefore I was dying or dead, both of which were far more plausible and believable to me.

When exhaustion did finally take hold and I began to doze off, I would come to screaming and screaming until I was given drugs and fell back into darkness until the river returned. To some extent, I never lost that feeling. The flashbacks lessened. But they never stopped.

Against the doctors’ advice I left the following day. The duty doctor wanted me to take a wheelchair but given I had to catch a bus that wasn’t practical. My brother had sent some money to a local clothes store. Attired in cheap labourers’ pants several sizes too big and a flannelette shirt, I staggered out on crutches as best I could manage, dragging my faulty leg and holding up my pants with my worthless right hand jammed in a pocket. As I hobbled along the main street, past rusting corro and rotten timber hoardings, the beat-up and decaying buildings of that dying mining town, I remember only the brilliance of the light.

I am trying to tell the story properly. For many decades after, I didn’t. Or couldn’t. I didn’t tell it at all, which is its own untruth, or when, very rarely, I did, I would fumble the details which for so long I tried to forget. It seemed to demand of me something I couldn’t give or say or be. When I went to talk about it I was back there or rather there was here, and time had collapsed, and once more I was a screaming worm outside of myself. It was that way with me for many years.

I wrote my first novel not about what had happened. I wrote it to exorcise what had happened. In any case, I didn’t know what had happened. I didn’t know I had died. I didn’t know it could keep happening. Only time would reveal that.

For decades after, I kept returning to the Franklin until I had run it 70 or 80 times, until I could no longer remember how many times, and every time I had nightmares for the preceding weeks, nightmares that didn’t stop until we passed that rapid, and only then would I feel I had stared something down within me that had to be faced in order that I might live again. That I return should perplex me. But it doesn’t, not after I have passed that rapid.

I am an old clock that once a year has to be reset to know what time is.

I met a woman in a bar one night who told me she had slept with the lead character of my first novel. She’d never met the author but she had heard he wasn’t much of a bloke.

I said I’d heard similar things.

“Strange,” she said, “how differently things turn out in a book, even when they are just the same.”

“Strange,” I said.

“That’s what I am trying to tell you,” she went on. “I knew him, the one the arsehole wrote his book about. I slept with him. He wasn’t worth a book. He wasn’t worth a beer coaster. He was a joke. But it was him. Except he never drowned.”

Another woman rang me one day, angrily accusing me of having stolen her story for the book, demanding I tell her how I knew the way her best friend had died. How?

That’s life.

After that, I knew that the truth wasn’t the truth even when it was. After that, I understood that lying about your book is, at worst, more entertaining than telling the truth and is, at best, more truthful.

After that, I remembered the advice T—, the famous writer, gave me many years ago after my first novel was published: make a mask and wear it. “Wear the mask and you’re safe,” he said. “Wear the mask every day you are in public and never let them see your face.”

My mother and father never asked me anything about what had happened. I was grateful. I had no words anyway. All I had was an inescapable silence that filled me and protected me. They were glad I was alive and that was that. No more, no less.

A few years later I won a scholarship that was seen to be prestigious and which would see me go to Oxford. I went home to break the news to my parents. My mother was cooking in the kitchen and was pleased, if hardly overwhelmed. She suggested I tell my father who was out back in the garden because he would be interested. I found him doing what he mostly did as he grew older, turning compost with a fork, lost in thoughts and memories. I said I had some news. Without turning around he said that was good. What was it?

I told his hunched back.

He kept on forking his compost.

“If you can meet with triumph and disaster,” he said finally, reciting Kipling, “and treat those two impostors just the same.”

I waited for something more, but there was nothing.

I was alive and I wanted to live. What more was there?

He forked the compost with short jabs that belied his age. I stayed waiting at his back.

I watched the grass clippings and the little sticks he spent hours cutting up with his secateurs being turned into the darker fecund peat, the worms writhing, the steam, his arms still working in a resolute if weakened way, the slow yielding of one thing to another.

And I started to laugh.

This is an edited extract from Question 7 by Richard Flanagan, published in the UK on 30 May by Chatto & Windus (£18.99). To support the Guardian and Observer, order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply.
The author will be appearing at events in Hay-on-Wye, Bath and London in June.

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