Trying to be golden??
Silence is Goldfish is the third novel by Annabel Pitcher, first published in 2015 by Orion Children’s Books. Earlier last week I was strolling past the bookshelves of my local book shop when I came across Silence is Goldfish. I’m really fond of Pitcher’s writing style, so I was surprised it took me three years to find out about this book! Nevertheless, I bought it and dove straight in when I was home.
Tess is a sixteen-year-old girl with an oddball personality. She doesn’t care about being ‘normal’. Her only problems are her parents concern for her weight and her lack of popularity before she discovers something that throws her life off-kilter. Tess’ dad, isn’t her biological father, worse still, he has written a blog post talking about how repulsed he feels about having to raise Tess, the child of his wife and a sperm donor.
As with other novels by Pitcher, her style of writing was lovely. I loved how Tess often referred to herself as the ‘Pluto’ of the social solar system – a beautiful way to admire her own individuality. Tess’ perspective is so dramatic and imaginative, and was one element that particularly kept me reading on.
As wonderful as Pitcher’s writing style is, I didn’t feel it was strong enough to hold up an awkward plot line. When reading the book, I noticed many slip-ups which, when combined, made for a very wobbly story. I found Jack’s character (Tess’ un-biological dad) to be very problematic. In his dialogue, he would criticise the way Tess dressed, force her to take up hobbies she disliked, and closely control what food she ate, all in all making her feel crap about herself. Jack’s emotional abuse was never an issue that was confronted by the end of the novel, and was something that annoyed me, knowing that readers who share a similar experience may think this behaviour is the norm and acceptable.
A major focus of the novel, hence its title, is Tess’ imaginary friend, a goldfish torch, who (spoiler) talks to her in her head. When these moments cropped up in the book, I cringed a lot. Do many sixteen-year-old girls have imaginary friends? Not many I know. Before this was properly explained, I thought Tess was hallucinating or had a mental health condition that hadn’t been addressed. This idea felt shoddy to me. It felt like Pitcher was trying to get gold out of lead.
Usually, when I read novels with odd titles, I can’t wait to get to the part that contextualises the title and make me better understand it. I may just be a bit dim but even after reading it, Silence is Goldfish doesn’t make sense to me as a title.
The ending also left me unsatisfied. Important questions I had as a reader weren’t answered by the end of the novel, a quality I really don’t like in fiction.
Regardless of the negatives, Pitcher is great at creating characters who are fleshed out and unique. All of Tess’ high school bullies felt so real and made me feel like I was back at secondary school! Additionally, I liked the message the novel tried to get across – biology isn’t important, instead you define your own family.
Although the plot wasn’t her greatest, I did enjoy the novel at times and I give it three stars.