The Fish by Lloyd Jones
The titular ‘fish’ is actually a human; the narrator’s nephew. Fortunately the Fish isn’t aware of his moniker, bestowed upon him from birth by his grandparents and uncle, who were immediately struck by how different he was. Revulsion is rife: he has no childhood friends, his stench induces constant window opening - even a class photo has to be hidden as it shows a classmate actively distancing herself from him. But even though his uncle always refers to the Fish as ‘it’ rather than ‘he’ or ‘him’, a bond develops which apparently fulfils him more than that which he’d had with his parents or siblings.
The Fish’s mother - never ‘my sister’, nor her actual name - is a drug addict. There being no road map for dealing with this in 1950s/60s New Zealand sees the family stumble and fall as they attempt to care for her and to love and protect their Fish. Over the years, the family continues to attract more than their fair share of tragedy - even becoming entangled in the Wahine disaster - and we see how these events impact their lives and their interactions with each other.
With each novel he writes, Lloyd Jones further establishes himself as a must-read author, primarily on account of his risk-taking: daring to poke a stick at the more disturbing aspects of life, not shying away from creating discomfort in the reader. Also admirable is the way he so fully and lyrically conveys characters, tone, era and events with so few brush strokes. The Fish is a compelling tale of abandonment and acceptance, hostility and hope.
Reviewer: Stacey Anyan