Sunday, 7 February 2016

Aquarium: Vann's writing style is so rich in characterisation and recurring motifs that the possible discussion points are endless

Aquarium by David Vann is a quirky coming of age drama that, uniquely,  both begins and ends in an aquarium. 13 year old Caitlin visits said aquarium, its in Seattle though that's not important, after school every day whilst she waits for her mother, Sheri, to finish work at the container port. This is a seemingly safe after school club of sorts that Sheri arranges so that she can work over-time to 'get on in life'. Evolution and survival of the fittest are both themes that run throughout this novel.  

Caitlin's daily dive to the bottom of the sea is both comforting and a window into the World. Like Christopher in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, Caitlin instinctively understands the life of the fish she sees every day as they begin to frame her own life. The scrap book like line drawings throughout the book illustrate the level of empathy Caitlin feels for her fish.

The story is tight and at times claustrophobic as Caitlin's immediate family expands to include Sheri's boyfriend Steve, Caitlin's school friend Shalina and, most significantly, her Grandfather. Some sections are uncomfortable such as where Sheri forces Caitlin to face her own harrowing experiences as a teenager. Vann doesn't hold back on the descriptions of the emotional pressure Caitlin is put under by her close to the edge mother, this is at heart a no-holds barred family drama.

Aquatic motifs can be found throughout the novel as Vann immerses the reader deeper and deeper into Caitin's life. All the key scenes take place in water such as the scene with Sheri in the bath and later with Shalini in the snow. 

This is a novel in which men are forgivable and women are complicated and a story where humans are harder to understand that the sea life on display in the aquarium. Great writing, punchy dialogue and succinct plotting make this a brilliant quick read that would be perfect for book groups. Vann's writing is so rich in characterisation and recurring motifs that the possible discussion points are endless

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