Review: Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt

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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.

Shelby Van Pelt’s debut novel is a gentle reminder that sometimes taking a hard look at the past can help uncover a future that once felt impossible.

I got the book from the library.

Review:

Dear Shelby Van Pelt,

For once I get to read a New York Time Bestsellers List Book when the book is still sitting on that list. It appears that the book is number four this week when I am typing my review. I have to admit that this book confused me. The plot was simple and the main “mystery” (it is not billed as a mystery, but the characters need to figure out something and the blurb kind of hints at it, but not quite, so that is why I called it a mystery) was easy to figure out, but Marcellus the Octopus confused the heck out of me.

Please do not get me wrong, I am aware of books that use animals as narrators, I am aware of the movies that do the same thing!  Not as if this was a narrative device completely new to me, however sometimes I can buy an animal who can express thoughts more complex than many human beings and sometimes I cannot. For me, the book either has to be a fantasy to buy it OR the animal’s narration should be limited to the things they can observe to share with the reader if that makes sense.

I think the author did try to describe Marcellus talking as an actual octopus in captivity and that made sense, but then he started making general observations about human beings and moreover he figured out a “mystery” way before the main human characters did, moreover he figured out what to do to speed up the human characters’ thought processes – so to speak – and I was sitting there, asking “What?”  And at the same time, I really liked his slightly sarcastic voice, despite all my criticisms. That is why I said that this character confused me.

This is billed as a story of friendship between the main female character Tova and Marcellus and I agree with that, although they never actually talk to each other (thank Goodness for that if you ask me, because if Marcellus started making small talk I probably would have been done with the book), but they still find a way to communicate and I liked that.

I really liked Tova, I even admired her and this story is also about her living and dealing with her grief over her son’s death (and, relatively recently in the book’s timeline, her husband’s death as well). This is also about Tova trying to understand how her son died, even if it happened many years ago. Also the book is about something that came out of her son’s death and I cannot discuss that at all, because to me this is the biggest spoiler of the book.

The story’s narration switches between Marcellus (first person mix of past and present), Tova’s (third person mostly present tense) and a couple other characters, one more prominent another rather secondary (I think he only got a few chapters but I can be wrong).  This unnamed third prominent character I actually found the most annoying in the book. I warmed up to him as story moved along, but for at least first half of the story I thought of him as a loser.

The ending was quite hopeful and I was glad for Tova’s sake, as I thought she needed that.

Grade: B-/B

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Sirius

Sirius started reading books when she was four and reading and discussing books is still her favorite hobby. One of her very favorite gay romances is Tamara Allen’s Whistling in the Dark. In fact, she loves every book written by Tamara Allen. Amongst her other favorite romance writers are Ginn Hale, Nicole Kimberling, Josephine Myles, Taylor V. Donovan and many others. Sirius’ other favorite genres are scifi, mystery and Russian classics. Sirius also loves travelling, watching movies and long slow walks.

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