Books: Quirky, cutesy, irritating
Fiction: Fishbowl, Bradley Somer, Ebury Press, hdbk, 294 pages, €22.50
An occasionally poignant novel that felt like a dreary episode of 'Friends'.
Fishbowl, the second novel from Bradley Somer, begins with a goldfish beginning its vertiginous fall from the top of a 27-storey apartment block. Well, technically, it begins with this irritating chapter title: "1 - In Which the Essence of Life and Everything Else is Illuminated."
Fishbowl is that kind of book, I'm afraid: quirky, arch, cutesy, self-consciously hip. Maybe I'm being unfair; maybe the problem is that I am "that kind of reader", i.e. one who's driven to exasperation by novels like this.
But I suppose you can only give your opinion of a book, not someone else's, and I really didn't like this. That's not to say I really disliked it; I'm not sure Fishbowl provoked a strong enough reaction to qualify.
And Somer - born in Australia, living in Canada since the 1980s - isn't a bad writer; this isn't a bad book, per se. But it did bug the absolute bejeesus out of me.
How? Oh, let me count the ways. Those chapter titles, for starters: things like In Which We Meet the Villain Connor Radley and the Arch-Seductress Faye. The character names: Petunia Delilah, Home-school Herman, a fish called Ian (ha!), a snail called Troy (hilarious!).
The characters: we have a woman who's not only agoraphobic but works on phone sex-lines, as so many of us do; a home-schooled kid who's weird and kooky and lives with granddad and thinks he can time travel; an obese man who wears women's clothes; a cheating, narcissistic academic/writer who's straight from central casting; a young woman who can't help falling in love and calls this her "superpower"; a lonely maintenance guy who secretly yearns to dance.
Their lives are interconnected, as all live or work in the same apartment block in some unnamed US city (or date someone who does). A series of unlikely events enmesh and entangle them; I won't bore you or myself with the details. Suffice to say the entire narrative is pretty implausible, which makes a series of pat, ribbon-bow-tying endings even more unpalatable.
Parts of Fishbowl are okay. The set-up is nice (I think most of us like a story set within the almost hermetic world of an apartment block). The writing is fine - not Dostoyevsky, but not inoffensively bad either. Some of the characters were sweet. There were a few moments of genuine poignancy.
But there's no depth to it, really; the novel doesn't say anything much about anything much, beyond some banal observations. And conversely, very little actually happens; there's not enough plot to keep you entertained. It neither stimulates nor thrills. The intended effect, I'm guessing, is somewhere around Armistead Maupin crossed with Douglas Coupland, with maybe a smidgen of Jay McInerney. The end result is like "reading" a rom-com, or one of the drearier episodes of Friends.
Then again, as I say, maybe that's just me. If quirky, arch, cutesy, self-consciously hip novels are your thing, then who knows? This could be the book In Which You Find What You're Looking for and Sit Up Reading All Night.
Darragh McManus' Young Adult novel, Shiver the Whole Night Through, is out now