ALLEN: Fishbowl a quirky and fantastic read

Heather Allen reviews Fishbowl, written by Calgary author Bradley Somer.

Fishbowl by Calgary author Bradley Somer.

A glass fishbowl tips from its precarious position on a 27th floor apartment balcony.

It takes four seconds for Ian, the goldfish, to slip from the bowl and free fall to the pavement below. On his way down, he passes apartment windows, getting a quick but unique glimpse into the lives of the building’s inhabitants.

Fishbowl by Calgary author Bradley Somer is quirky and fantastic, with a terribly unreliable narrator — Ian the fish himself.  In the few seconds it takes Ian to sail from his empty bowl save for a few pink plastic pebbles, a fog of algae on the glass, and his roommate Troy, the snail, he almost immediately forgets his watery prison. He will soon after forget the ludicrous pink castle. Troy won’t simply fade from Ian’s memory; it will be as if he never existed at all.

“Ian can neither comprehend place and time nor comprehend the order that each imposes on each other. Ian’s world is a pastiche of events with no sequence, no past, no future.”

Although viewed through the eye of a fish, this apartment is the perfect random grouping of people living out their separate but connected lives. Just as with any apartment dwellers, it takes something extraordinary to make them come together. No wonder there are so many good stories that start in apartment buildings.

Who can forget Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window (based on the 1942 short story It Had to Be Murder) in which a convalescent witnesses murder in an adjacent apartment window. More recently the French novel The Elegance of the Hedgehog catalogued the life of a lonely concierge, and the eclectic collection of characters in her building.

While many stories are set in apartment blocks, and many more have animals as narrators, there is still something unique about a tale told by a goldfish. Don’t be put off by the first few pages of Fishbowl. Somer’s writing occasionally tends to the grandiose, and is sprinkled with adjectives.  It begins: “There’s a box that contains life and everything else. This is not a figurative box of lore. It’s not a box of paper sheets that have been captured, bound, and filled with the inklings of faith, chronicling the foibles and contradictions of the human species…”

Thankfully, whenever Somer slips into these passages, he quickly reverts back to a cleaner style – one that is more intent on moving the story forward – or in this case – downwards.

Ian is a fish who has longed for adventure, and seizes his moment when it comes. The many lives he witnesses as he freefalls intersect in the most unusual ways. You may not love the way it ends for each of them. But for a quick journey – albeit longer than Ian’s last adventure – Fishbowl is a trip worth taking. Thanks to the reader who suggested this book.

Heather Allen is an avid book reader and reviewer