An extremely ingenious and engrossing debut novel, “Big Fish” is both an exercise in nostalgia and an attempt to unravel intricate human emotions. Edward Bloom is on his death bed, hooked to an assortment of beeping machines that monitor every breath he takes and keep track of the number of beats his weak heart clocks. His son William Bloom, who all along has been brought up on a mythical diet of his father’s accomplishments, now tries to dust away the cobwebs of fiction to get to the core of what his father was in reality. In order to do this, William needs to recreate a lifetime of fables that have acquired a mythical proportion. Time is not on William’s hands however as Edward might shed his mortal coil sooner than later.
The tales involving Edward Bloom at their frontispiece range from the banal to the bizarre. An inveterate traveler, Bloom traverses the globe in the capacity of the proprietor of an import/export business. During the process, the impossible jokester becomes a party to some spectacular and unbelievable adventures. He is served tea by a twin headed Geisha woman in Japan; whilst driving at a leisurely pace he comes across a quaint town which memerises him so much that he goes on to purchase the whole town complete with every shop, street, and swamp. Basically warts and all. He also tames a a wild and perpetually hungry giant who has taken to gobbling the crops and dogs of an anguished village.
After exhausting all these astounding adventures, and in the process exhausted himself, Edward Bloom arrives home to William and his mother. However, this time he has come to die. Diagnosed with a terminal condition, Edward Bloom is getting prepared to meet his Maker. Before which, William needs some answers. Answers that are frank, brutal and honest. But there is just one slight hitch. Every serious question of William is first met, before being nonchalantly swatted away by Edward with a joke. A repository of ‘bad jokes’, Edward keeps deflecting the questions raised by his son by responding with one pathetic joke after another. These are jokes which have been retold, recycled and repeated by Edward over many a year, until they have become stale. For example, to the question of whether Edward nurses a belief in either divinity or religion, William is regaled with a joke involving Pinocchio in heaven!
How much longer can William bear to put up with the obstinacy of a man who even when on the last legs of his existence puts up a wall of privacy and aloofness? Will his patience wear out thin or would be become successful in fathoming the real persona of his father, a persona which hitherto has been clouded and camouflaged by both myth and mystery?
Daniel Wallace impresses his reader with this compelling work that induces a range of contrasting emotions. The reader laughs, runs and fights alongside Edward in a carefree manner while becoming extremely frustrated at William’s predicament of not being able to penetrate the complex core of his deceptively simple father.
This entertaining book has also been made into a movie starring Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney, Billy Crudup, Jessica Lange, and Marion Cotillard. Not surprising since the plot makes perfect fodder for a cinematic experience!