FISH TANK: A Fable for Our Times by Scott Bischke
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The first thing I see when opening the cover of Fish Tank by Scott Bischke are blurbs from other reviews, several of which compare the book to Orwell’s Animal Farm. While it’s a valid point, it feels like a cross between Animal Farm, The Lorax, and “Finding Nemo.” In fact, the connection to “Finding Nemo” felt so strong that it was hard picture the characters and events in the book as anything other than cute computer-animated fish.
This is very unfortunate because the message contained in the novel is so important. When Professor Brown leaves his aquarium in the care of Augustus for a year, Augustus decides to cut corners and places a year’s worth of fish food in the automatic feeder so that he doesn’t have to come back to tend to it. However, Augustus grossly underestimates the amount of food which the fish need, a fact that quickly becomes aparent to a few of the more intelligent denizens of the fish tank. As they call for conservation of the important resource, they are met by heavy opposition from the crabs, who continually ensure everyone that there is plenty for everyone.
I won’t go much further into the plot, but suffice to say that this is a not-so-subtle allegory to the current plight humanity is facing inside our own fish tank. The book focuses on the limits and sharing of resources, eventually global warming, the selfish actions of a few who make things worse while assuring everyone that all is well, and the skewed facts they rely on to prove these points. The metaphor is not subtle, which becomes part of the problem with this book.
While Animal Farm may not have been subtle with its allegory of the Russian Revolution and the events that followed, there was an artistry to it that makes the book more translatable. There’s an underlying social complexity that requires the reader to work a bit more but provides a significant reward. But with Fish Tank, there’s not much under the surface (no pun intended). While containing an important message and using a similar device of using animals to represent different parts of society, the message is so heavy-handed that it feels as thought the entire novel is potentially unnecessary or, at worst, might be considered by some to be condescending. Everything is quite blatantly obvious, and little to no work is required on the part of the reader.
Again, it’s unfortunate given the message’s importance, and until the very end, it’s almost difficult to take the fishes’ dire situation that seriously because of the cute imagery. Really, the problem there is simply bad timing. If the cultural significance of “Finding Nemo” wasn’t so prominent, this would probably not be an issue.
I would still recommend this novel for its message, and maybe others will get more out of it than I could, especially because I’ve been so immersed in the subject for a while now (which probably makes me identify with Doc Hansom, the goatfish), but I failed to take as much away from this novel as I probably should have.
Also, I probably should not be writing this review while hungry, because now I want seafood.
As such, Fish Tank by Scott Bischke earns 3 out of 5 starfish.