Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt
For people who don’t care if the octopus is a small part of this and not the heart of it, for folks who enjoy understated stories with quiet character development, for a gentle mystery. Not for likeable characters, engaging plot, or vivid emotions.
After Tova Sullivan’s husband died, she began working the night shift at the Sowell Bay Aquarium, mopping floors and tidying up. Keeping busy has always helped her cope, which she’s been doing since her eighteen-year-old son, Erik, mysteriously vanished on a boat in Puget Sound over thirty years ago.
Tova becomes acquainted with curmudgeonly Marcellus, a giant Pacific octopus living at the aquarium. Marcellus knows more than anyone can imagine but wouldn’t dream of lifting one of his eight arms for his human captors–until he forms a remarkable friendship with Tova.
Ever the detective, Marcellus deduces what happened the night Tova’s son disappeared. And now Marcellus must use every trick his old invertebrate body can muster to unearth the truth for her before it’s too late.
Who else came to this book lured in by the promise of narration via octopus? I imagine lots of people, myself among them.
Who else was disappointed by the lack of octopus narration?
There are a few good chapters of it for sure, but they’re short at two or three pages each and make up overall a small (but impactful) portion of the story. My expectations for this were WAY off, as I thought it’d be closer to 50%, so when I got into this and realized it was mostly narrated from two humans (with the occasional omniscient view of side characters where fitting) I was quickly put off of it. This was not what I signed up for.
It didn’t help matters that I didn’t really like Cameron, who oddly enough is not even mentioned in the book blurb despite narrating about half the story and showing up in like chapter three. Very strange decision there. Anyway, he never grew on me and constantly annoyed me, as most people who are way more immature than their age annoy me.
Tova was kind of a middle-ground for me. I had no strong feelings for her either way, and I think it’s because her stoic Swiss nature that’s so emphasized in the book came across too well. xD I never felt really in her head or heart, and felt at arms distance the whole way through. By the end, it was about at the level of someone I was friendly with in high school and think about once every few years and say, “I hope they’re doing well.” A polite but distant well-wisher.
Marcellus, of course, is the best character. Ethan is an easy second. Maybe I’d even throw Terry in there. Then maybe Avery. What was her friend’s name? Jess? Sure, Jess is #5. And, hmm, who else… Marco. And the mechanic… anyway.
This was primarily a character-focused book as more is learned about them and their connections in the small town of Sowell Bay. The plot does slowly carry them forward, but it’s a light touch of mystery that I was not super invested in. Part of this is because even by the last few chapters it didn’t seem like it would be resolved, so it was like the mystery mattered as little to the story as it did to me. It all wrapped up in a fairly tidy way so if you prefer books with closed endings, you’ll probably be all set with this one.
Overall, I was disappointed from the get-go and bored the rest of the way. I would have DNFd at 30% if a friend hadn’t encouraged me to keep giving it a shot. Sorry friend — I still didn’t love it. 😐 It’s a fairly short read, but for me it took a while to drag through.
One other random note: as I read this, so much of the little octopus information and interactions reminded me of what I’d read and learned in Sy Montgomery’s The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration Into the Wonder of Consciousness. I came to the acknowledgments to see Pelt acknowledge the same book for being a wonderful source. Nailed it on that front!
7 thoughts on “Review: Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt”
Given the prominence of the octopus on the cover (and in the blurb) I would have expected a LOT more octopus in the book. Pity it wasn’t present as much as implied.