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


Quick Book Review: The Mad Scientist’s Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke (DNF)

The Mad Scientist's Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke

This book sounded just the thing for me: an SF story about artificial intelligence and how close it can get to human intelligence. Unfortunately, I could not get into the story, so I abandoned the book after I read about a quarter of it.

In a new future, Cat, a young girl, is given a robot as a tutor. He was build to look like a human and adapted by her father, a cybernetic scientist. At first, she doesn’t realise he’s not human, and really, it doesn’t matter, she loves him.

As she gets older and develops love affairs with boys and men, she can’t forget about Finn, the robot, who is still living at her parent’s house. But his love for her is programmed and not real.

There are hints of a Disaster in the past, after which a new, high-tech society has been created. But not everyone is keen on technology which they claim caused the Disaster in the first place. They frown upon the existence of robots such as Finn.

The story felt like a YA story, although it is not meant to be one. The writing is not very demanding and there is just the single storyline (I’m not saying all YA is like that, but it’s maybe more likely to be like that than adult books).

I didn’t find the story very engaging or exciting. It’s a kind of and-then/and-then story, very linear. It also skips years very abruptly at times, moving from one period in Cat’s life to another one.

I would have loved to know more about the society they were living in, the Disaster and the anti-automaton movement. Maybe this was further explained later on in the story. In the part I read, I found that kind of information rather sparse. Instead, the book focused mainly on Cat and her boyfriends, and of course, Finn. It felt more like a love story than a more general science fiction story.

This was obviously not the book for me, so I gave up after 110 pages.

Rating: No rating, did not finish the book

Number of pages: 416 (read to page 110)

First published: 2013, February 7th

I got this: from the publishers via Netgalley (ebook)

Genre: science fiction

Quick Book Review: Man in the Empty Suit (DNF)

The Man in the Empty Suit by Sean FerrellI love books about time travel, so a book in which a man celebrates his birthday with his younger and older selves, sounded like a lot of fun. Unfortunately, I found this book too slow going.

It was quirky and the ideas were very good (he witnesses the murder of a slightly older version of himself and has to find out what happened). However, there was a lot of running around the building with younger versions of himself out to get him. There was a woman, the only non-himself present at the party, but I didn’t understand her role at all.

Also, the story was too fixated on the man and the hotel he was in, and didn’t reveal much about the further world around him (which seems to have collapsed). After 150 pages I was still not very interested in finding out who committed the murder and why, so I gave up reading.

If you’re interested, here’s the description from the publisher:

“Say you’re a time traveler and you’ve already toured the entirety of human history. After a while, the outside world might lose a little of its luster. That’s why this time traveler celebrates his birthday partying with himself. Every year, he travels to an abandoned hotel in New York City in 2071, the hundredth anniversary of his birth, and drinks twelve-year-old Scotch (lots of it) with all the other versions of who he has been and who he will be. Sure, the party is the same year after year, but at least it’s one party where he can really, well, be himself.

The year he turns 39, though, the party takes a stressful turn for the worse. Before he even makes it into the grand ballroom for a drink he encounters the body of his forty-year-old self, dead of a gunshot wound to the head. As the older versions of himself at the party point out, the onus is on him to figure out what went wrong–he has one year to stop himself from being murdered, or they’re all goners. As he follows clues that he may or may not have willingly left for himself, he discovers rampant paranoia and suspicion among his younger selves, and a frightening conspiracy among the Elders. Most complicated of all is a haunting woman possibly named Lily who turns up at the party this year, the first person besides himself he’s ever seen at the party. For the first time, he has something to lose. Here’s hoping he can save some version of his own life.”

Rating: No rating, did not finish the book

Number of pages: 306 (read to page 150)

First published: 2013, February 5th

I got this: from the publishers via Netgalley (ebook)

Genre: science fiction, time travel

Quick Book Review: Cover of Snow by Jenny Milchman (DNF)

Cover of Snow by Jenny MichmanOne morning, Nora Hamilton finds her husband dead: he’s hung himself. He was a policeman in a small town in the mountains near New York. After the first shock, Nora goes on an investigation as to the reason of his suicide. She comes across some townspeople, including the chief of police, who try to discourage her from looking any deeper or even tell lies. She’s offered help by a client and they discover some unnerving facts about Brendan, Nora’s husband, and his younger brother.

I didn’t get much further than this, as the book didn’t resonate with me. I found the story bland and there was not enough tension. The small facts of mystery that showed up during Nora’s investigation may peak some readers’ interest but it didn’t happen for me. Furthermore, I didn’t find Nora, the main character, a particularly interesting person and didn’t think she was convincing as a widow.

I did like the small-town feel of the book. There is a clear sense of us (the long-standing families of the town, including Brendan’s) and them (including Nora, and other late comers to the town). The mother-in-law is an awful person who undoubtedly will get her comeuppance later in the story. It was almost worth reading on to see in what way! However, as with Nora, I found her rather one dimensional and not an interesting person as such.

This was obviously not the book for me, so I gave up after 120 pages.

Rating: No rating, did not finish the book

Number of pages: 336 (read to page 120)

First published: 2013, January 15th

I got this: from the publishers via Netgalley (ebook)

Genre: mystery

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