Life in a Fishbowl by Len Vlahos

life-in-a-fishbowlYA is a genre that has largely passed me by but I liked the premise of Life in a Fishbowl and thought I’d take a look. I’m glad I did.

Jared Stone, an Oregon state senator, is working on an assisted dying bill when he discovers he has a terminal brain tumour (glioblastoma multiforme). He doesn’t immediately tell his family, but he considers the financial implications of his death and decides, for their sake, to auction what remains of his life on eBay.

The novel follows the impact of events on his family – in particular his sensitive, lonely fifteen-year-old daughter Jackie (whose response contrasts with her pretty, popular younger sister Megan) and four people who make a bid for Jared’s life, for very different reasons.

Life in a Fishbowl succeeds in treading a very difficult line – it is full of absurdist humour but it also has compassion and doesn’t shrink from difficult issues such as bereavement and assisted dying.

It takes in a lot of zeitgeisty themes – reality TV, computer games, PR, as well as perennial topics such as the torment of not being popular at school. As you’d expect, Jackie is the focus of the novel (presumably because sensitive, lonely girls read more books than pretty, popular ones) but we get the perspectives of all the family.

Even the tumour, ‘Glio’, is anthropomorphised. I thought at first this might be too cute, but it means the author can show Jared’s memories as Glio devours them, and gives us Jared’s thoughts at a time when he cannot articulate them.

Life in a Fishbowl shines a satirical light on contemporary culture but also has great warmth. It is funny, engaging and full of life.

I received a copy of Life in a Fishbowl from the publisher via Netgalley.
View Life in a Fishbowl on Goodreads

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