Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Aquarium by David Vann

Aquarium by David Vann
First published in America by Atlantic Monthly Press in April 2015.

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from its publisher, via NetGalley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Aged nine, Caitlin spends almost every afternoon at the local aquarium while her mother works overtime at her construction job. Caitlin's whole world is her school, her mother, occasionally her mother's boyfriends, and the fish at the aquarium. She has no friends at school, apart from Shalini, who is making a paper mache Hindu reindeer with her, and no other family. But Caitlin has made a friend at the aquarium; an old man who seems to know something about Caitlin, something she doesn't even know about herself.

Aquarium is set in Seattle and tells of a short period of the life of a young girl, Caitlin, who lives with her mother, Sheri, a woman struggling to make ends meet by working long hours in a dead-end job. They have a poor standard of accommodation and Sheri's work means Caitlin is often left alone for several hours, time she chooses to spend at the local aquarium gaining an encyclopaedic knowledge of rare fish. I liked the inclusion of line-drawn fish illustrations throughout the novel. Caitlin's meeting there with an older man is the catalyst for the events that drive the novel, but Vann does not take us to obvious territory.

This is not an easy novel to read. By that, I mean that the themes it examines are heavy and dark. The writing is superb - spare and frequently brutal and impossible to look away from. Vann has created perfectly believable characters that really got through to me. The destruction of a family by fear then poverty is graphically portrayed and the carry-though to the next generation is frightening to comprehend. My favourite character, I think, is Sheri although I didn't actually like her or many of her actions. This woman has fought incredibly hard to escape her past and her sheer rage at finding herself flung backwards absolutely crackles off the pages.

I will definitely be looking out for more David Vann novels in the future and will be adding his existing titles to my Goodreads TBR list.

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Books by David Vann / Young adult books / Books from America


  1. I`ve never heard of this book before, but it does sound interesting. I`m also a fan of books that address heavy subjects, so I`m adding this to my TBR.

    Carmen / Carmen`s Reading Corner

    1. Glad to be able to introduce you to Aquarium! I think this book is brilliant