Book Review: Aquarium by David Vann

Aquarium by David VannAquarium: What it is about

From the publishers: “Twelve-year-old Caitlin lives alone with her mother -a docker at the local container port – in subsidized housing next to an airport in Seattle. Each day, while she waits to be picked up after school, Caitlin visits the local aquarium to study the fish. Gazing at the creatures within the watery depths, Caitlin accesses a shimmering universe beyond her own. When she befriends an old man at the tanks one day, who seems as enamoured of the fish as she, Caitlin cracks open a dark family secret and propels her once-blissful relationship with her mother toward a precipice of terrifying consequence.

In crystalline, chiselled yet graceful prose, Aquarium takes us into the heart of a brave young girl whose longing for love and capacity for forgiveness transforms the damaged people around her. Relentless and heart-breaking, primal and redemptive, Aquarium is a transporting story from one of the best American writers of our time.”

Aquarium: What I thought

Wow, I liked this a lot! I started out being a fan of David Vann with his first few books. With Dirt I had a few issues, and Goat Mountain, his last book before Aquarium, I didn’t finish. But with Aquarium, Vann is back high on my list of favorite authors!

Caitlin has a difficult life living in poor housing with her mother, who has a job that is barely enough to keep them housed, clothed, and fed properly. She spends a lot of her time waiting. She arrives very early at school because her mother drops her off 90 minutes before school starts (so she can go to work), and she picks her up from the aquarium, where Caitlin spends time after school, until her mother is finished with her job.

In the aquarium she befriends a man, but when her mother finds out, she is furious. Caitlin’s mother finally starts talking about her past. A family drama ensues. There are some unpleasant scenes (of the blood and gore type), as we can expect from this author, but close your eyes and they’ll pass soon.

Eventually, this story starts to feel like a fairy tale (which is actually acknowledged by some of the characters!). Some of it is highly unlikely, but it makes a very good story. One point of complaint: Caitlin seemed a lot younger than twelve to me.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars (very good)

Number of pages: 272

First published: 2015

I got this book: for review from the publishers, Random House, via Netgalley (eBook)

Genre: contemporary fiction

Also read by this author: Sukkwan Island, Caribou Island, Dirt, Goat Mountain


About Leeswammes
I'm owner and editor at In my free time, I read and review books on my two blogs, Leeswammes' Blog and De Boekblogger.

5 Responses to Book Review: Aquarium by David Vann

  1. Thanks for the review. I’d heard the title, but now after reading your review, I am putting on my list.

  2. Leslie says:

    I listened to the audio and liked it a lot too. I hadn’t read any of the author’s other books so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but this turned out to be one of my 5 stars reads this year.

  3. Pingback: Book Review: A Mile Down by David Vann | Leeswammes' Blog

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