The Bottle Imp of Bright House


Tom Llewellyn


Science Fiction / Fantasy


Date Reviewed:

January 21, 2020

his book is targeted toward elementary school children. I picked it up because the cover promised illustrations by Gris Grimly. Who doesn't love the quirky art of Gris Grimly? The cover is a nice example of his off-kilter style. Unfortunately there isn't enough Grimly art in inside to make this a book worth owning.

The Bottle Imp of Bright House tells the story of Gabe Silver, who's family has fallen on difficult times. His father has lost his professor job, so the family has just moved into the dilapidated house on Bright Street. Also boarding in Bright House Apartments is a cast of bizarre characters - the angry goth-girl Joanna, who's mother is dying from cancer; the eccentric artist Hashimoto (all of her painting are wrapped in red silk, so no one can actually see her artwork); Doctor Mandrake - an astrologer who lives on the top floor, and of course his foretellings always come true; and there is the owner and landlady, the intimidating Mrs. Appleyard. Also in Bright House lives Alejandro Aguilar, the handyman and henchman to Mrs. Appleyard. Plus the temporarily-down-on-their-luck-but-usually-rich Brackley family, who have so stuffed their rooms with furnishings that there is no floor space. In the course of the novel, Gabe will interact with all of these unique characters.

While at a cheese shop, Gabe is sold a small bottle by Mr. Shoreby, the richest man in the city. Shoreby warns Gabe that there is an imp trapped inside the bottle, and that it will grant any wish that Gabe could make - but there is a catch. For every wish granted, there is an bill that comes due, sort of a balancing of the cosmos. If Gabe wishes for $50,000, then someone else, somewhere, must lose $50,000. The other catch is that if the owner dies while the bottle is in his possession, then his soul will go straight to hell. (Apparently the author, Tom Llewellyn, copied this idea from a story by Robert Louis Stevenson called the Bottle Imp.) Despite these dire warnings, Gabe purchases the b bottle and wishes for a 430 Ferrari. Gabe gets his wish, but he gets it because Mr. Shoreby has died and left the Ferrari to Gabe in his will. (To me, this doesn't exactly balance the cosmic ledger - why does Shoreby have to die? Couldn't he just lose the car to Gabe?)

Gabe does some experimental wishes - asking for pizza, a hot tub, and his father to get his professor job back. Each time, Gabe's wish is granted, but there is a corresponding repercussion - delivery of the free pizza results in a car crash of the delivery van, Gabe's father gets his job back the expense of a co-worker losing her job. Convinced now the Bottle Imp is real, Gabe must sell it to protect himself for the danger of dying and going to hell. And so Gabe interacts with all the inhabitants of Bright Apartments.

The plot is okay. I thought the artist Hashimoto was the most interesting character, though ultimately she has nothing to do with Gabe's quest to deal with the Bottle Imp. Joanna is a nicely drawn character, but her story arc is entirely predictable.

I think the weakest part of the story is that repercussions that transpire from each wish granted. For example, Gabe is racing through the city streets in the Ferrari and is about to collide with another vehicle - he quickly wishes to avoid the crash - but story ignores the issue of who paid the price for Gabe avoiding the other car. When they wish that Joanna's mother is cured of cancer, who pays the price for the cure? This is the most interesting question of the story, but it is completely ignored. A thoughtful Gabe would have realized that to save Joanna's mother, someone else must suffer. Couldn't the author at least have shown Gabe wrestling with this moral dilemna?

Overall, this is a readable story, the inhabitants of Bright House are fun. But it isn't a compelling classic.