ONE TO WATCH OUT FOR: Fishbowl by Bradley Somer

Article published on July 20, 2015.

I’m sure the idea must have been done before but perhaps not on this scale – 27 floors of it. The conceit is that Ian, the goldfish, lives in a fishbowl on the 27th floor of the Seville apartment block on Roxy in New York. For some yet to be explained reason, Ian leaves his goldfish bowl only to find himself rapidly flashing by the 26 floors below, seeing briefly into the windows and the lives therein. Indeed there is a neat graphic down the right-hand margin of the page showing Ian’s progress as he falls: the closer you get to the end of the book the closer he gets to the foot of the page.

So we have a series of characters and scenarios: the two timing boyfriend, the cross dresser, the pregnant woman on the verge of giving birth. Catching me by surprise was the agoraphobic woman who has found the perfect employment where she doesn’t need to leave home: she answers callers to a sex line. And then there is the apartment block ‘super’, Jiminez, who is invisible to the residents – until they have a problem they need solving. In this case it is the worst possible problem for an apartment block, both lifts have stopped working.

In short chapters with headings that give you an idea of what is to follow, Mr Somer neatly intersects the lives of the residents so that we can appreciate them from two or more perspectives. In between we share Ian’s thoughts as he falls floor by floor. The inability to remember what happened as he swam round his fishbowl serves him well as he is unable to predict what is likely to happen now.

Although at times I was less worried about Ian and keener to get back to human developments, there’s no denying the author’s talent in keeping the story moving forward inexorably. I wanted to know how Connor, occupant of the top floor apartment and owner of Ian, was going to reconcile his lustful relationships (with Faye and Deb) with the realisation of his true feelings for Kate, his newest girlfriend. Would Petunia managed to give birth successfully or would the ambulancemen find her and her baby dead by the time they had climbed so many stairs to reach her? Would Claire ever escape the confines of her agoraphobia (this was cause for several laugh out loud moments)?

Satisfyingly most of the characters find a resolution and the endings feel neatly tied up, to which this reader rarely objects. After all, this is a fun read, not a deep, literary novel although in an afterword the author unveils how he has carefully structured events.

For a debut this is a remarkably accomplished piece of work. To this point, his short fiction may ‘only’ have appeared in literary journals, reviews and anthologies but there is no denying there is a talent at work here. Definitely one to watch.

Guy Pringle, July 2015

Fishbowl by Bradley Somer is published by Ebury on August 6th, 2015

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