ARC/Book Review: Life in a Fishbowl – Len Vlahos

life-in-a-fishbowl-len-vlahos-book-review

Title: Life in a Fishbowl (2017)
Author: Len Vlahos
Publisher: Bloomsbury Childrens
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Extent: 336 pages
Release Date: January 12, 2017
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Goodreads Description

Jackie’s life wasn’t perfect, but it was normal. That is, until her dad got a terminal cancer diagnosis. Then went and did what anyone faced with mountains of medical bills and a family to support would do: he sold his life to the highest bidder.

Which turned out to be a TV station.

Suddenly everyone from psychotic millionaires to cyber-savvy nuns wants a piece of Jackie’s family as they become a reality TV sensation. Her life spirals out of control just as her dad’s starts to run out and meanwhile the whole world is tuning in to watch her family fall apart…

Review

2016 was the year I discovered reality television. The years before, I would catch some episodes of My Kitchen Rules, MasterChef, and The Bachelor/ette but never really stayed, having barely any attachment to the characters. Last year, though, I started watching these things from the very start and very quickly got sucked in. I rooted for my favourite contestants and ‘boo’-ed those I didn’t like. I sat glued to the TV, scrolling through the relevant Twitter hashtag. I was, put simply, obsessed — which was why Life in a Fishbowl should have been right up my alley.

Keyword, unfortunately, being should have. The blurb for Life in a Fishbowl might allude to the story of a teenage girl, Jackie, whose father’s last days are broadcasted all over the nation, but it’s actually quite different. Instead, the focus is less on Jackie and more about everyone, or should I say everything, involved in this TV show: the executive producer, the fans, the anti-fans… and even the tumour in Jackie’s father’s head.

Glio — the name by which the high-grade glioblastoma tumor now thought of itself — didn’t know what was happening, but it was lighting up Jared’s brain like a football stadium at night. Glio really, really, really liked it. He stopped to watch.

This book is told in multiple third-person perspectives: Jackie’s, her family members’, her father’s supporters, her father’s non-supporters, etc. The tumour (Glio, as quoted above) is anthropomorphised here and often makes (morbid, somewhat animalistic) commentary. I actually kind of enjoyed that we get to hear from so many, er, living things, but I think it comes at an expense: the focus is so fractured that I didn’t find myself liking or sympathising with any of the characters.

The thing that didn’t work the most for me, however, was the voice. Vlahos’s writing style comes across as cold, clinical and matter-of-fact, and oftentimes I felt very… detached from the plot and the characters. It was like reading a very dry report —  as sad as the situation was supposed to be, I was just unemotional.

This isn’t real life. Nothing on TV is real life. It is fiction. The only part of this that’s true is that my dad is dying, and that he is — that we are — being robbed of our privacy and dignity.

I think I was expecting something more grounded (as grounded as the premise could be, at least), more… ah, realistic? Perhaps more about death and cancer rather than, er, society. Yet the book veers more towards satire territory, kind of a social commentary on how ‘reality’ can be constructed and how that impacts the people behind that screen. I didn’t mind that, but it’s safe to say that it’s not exactly the book I thought I would be reading.

I can actually see people going either way with Life in a Fishbowl — the premise is unique, the storytelling is creative — but personally it left me feeling cold and ultimately unsatisfied, and I’m just not sure if I gained anything from reading it. I wasn’t entertained enough to call it fluff, and I wasn’t ‘enriched’ enough to call it educational. Not that a book has to have a ‘point’, though, so that’s on me.

* I received an ARC of LIFE IN A FISHBOWL from Bloomsbury Children in exchange for an honest review.

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23 thoughts on “ARC/Book Review: Life in a Fishbowl – Len Vlahos

  1. Oh, too bad you couldn’t enjoy this one too much. Just like you, I thought the synopsis was interesting and that it would satisfy the reality-tv-watcher that I am, but I’m disappointed to hear it wasn’t the case for you. I didn’t expect this book to have so many different point of views?! I don’t know, I guess I’ll have to see if I still want to read it or not. Thank you for this 🙂

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    • Yeah, I’m disappointed as well but on the other hand, objectively I can say that it’s not a bad book at all – it’s just not the book for me? Like I kind of get what Vlahos is getting at but I just didn’t enjoy it. You might, though! 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m sorry to see you didn’t enjoy this book Reg. I’ll admit I’m not as much of a reality TV fan as you seem to be, in fact I don’t really watch any reality TV, but this definitely sounded like a unique concept for a book. I kind of like the fact that the tumor was given a voice so to say, that must have made for interesting reading at least right? I guess maybe if the writing style had been different you could have enjoyed it more right? 🙂
    Still great review! 😀

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    • Thanks, Beth! I’m actually more of a seasonal fan – right now I’m not watching anything reality, haha. I do enjoy it from time to time though. 😛

      I like that the tumor was given a voice too! But overall I just found the book to be very clinical, and for some reason it just didn’t work for me this time. It did work at other times though (i.e. Scythe) so maybe it’s just one of those things. 🤔

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh, Reg, I’m so sorry you didn’t enjoy this one, especially since it was right up your alley! I was also intrigued by the synopsis, but when you mentioned it’s in multiple third-person POVs, I wasn’t really interested anymore, mainly because those kinds of stories are really hard for me to follow >_< Good luck with the next book you read!

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  4. I’m sorry to hear this one did not work for you! I don’t like it when there are too many third-person pov because it doesn’t leave enough room to connect to the characters.

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    • Yeah, I’m kind of sad about it! There’s definitely an audience for it, though – some people I think would really appreciate the voice and find it smart and satirical instead of clinical and detached like I did. 😛

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  5. It always sucks when a read you’re really looking forward to ends up letting you down. I have to admit that I’m not a fan of reality tv. It’s actually something I avoid at all cost 🙈. But this does sound like a unique concept. Too bad there was a detachment emotion wise. Given the subject matter I know that I would have expected to cry. Either way, great review Reg! I hope your next read goes better. 😊

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    • I get it – I actually didn’t start watching any reality TV until last year, and I’m actually not following anything at the moment. It just caught me at the right time, I suppose.

      But yeah! Definitely a unique concept, and I am 100% sure that others might end up really liking it because it really is quite unique. It’s just that the writing really didn’t work for me, and given that writing is, like, the WHOLE BOOK… well. 😂

      Liked by 1 person

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