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Remarkably Bright Creatures

A Novel

by Shelby Van Pelt

Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt X
Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    May 2022, 368 pages

    Jan 2, 2024, 368 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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There are currently 5 reader reviews for Remarkably Bright Creatures
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Power Reviewer
Rebecca Haase

a surprisingly delightful read
I was prepared to dismiss this book as entirely ridiculous after my self-appointed requirement of 75 pages; however, what I discovered was a perfectly delightful, well written and tender character study.
The story concerns a 70-year-old woman stuck in grief for a teenaged son lost to an early death, a 30-year-old man-child stuck in anger at a mother who abandoned him at age 9 and an aging octopus stuck in a too small “prison” longing for the vast ocean he can hear outside the aquarium. One supporting character I enjoyed was the busybody owner of the grocery store who inserts himself into everyone else’s business.
To tell you more would spoil this novel. Read it for yourself and be delighted. I hope the author writes another tale for us to enjoy.
5 of 5 stars for a surprisingly good novel with an unusual collection of characters and a first-time author.
Anthony Conty

Best of the Year
“Remarkably Bright Creatures” by Shelby Van Pelt starts with an animal as a main character, and if you have seen “The Shape of Water,” your first fear is a recreation of that quirky top twist. We alternate chapters between Tova, an aquarium custodian, and an octopus. Because we accept this as a work of fiction, we go along, despite our doubts, about which aquarium dwellers would have the best mind for crime-solving and why Van Pelt chose the eight-legged one.

Cameron, a third character, has a bad breakup and loses his job. Now, we have three lives that need to intersect, and it does not take long for you to care about them. Tova’s misanthropic characteristics somehow make her more intriguing. The incident when all three of these remarkably different characters come together happens early in the novel but still qualifies as an “a-ha” moment. Each is a bright creature in its way, and they will surprise you.

An octopus as an omniscient narrator sounds like a hokey idea, but Van Pelt makes it work. As the winner of BookBrowse’s Best Debut, it is unique and not surprisingly like nothing you have read. Van Pelt most likely has a few more stories in her. I read a few reviews that stated how horrible of a human being Cameron is, but that shows you how skilled Van Pelt is. Loveable idiots are hard to produce, so I credit the author. She also creates chapter titles that mean nothing until you read, a tactic that works like the “Frasier” TV show.

Predicting endings or twists is not my skill set, but I saw this coming. It did not take away from my enjoyment since the characters meant so much to me then. How would the average person respond in the face of so much loss? Tova leads the novel as a woman who goes about her business in life because what else can she do? Marcellus, the Giant Pacific Octopus, has the advantage of knowing everything as a literary device in which we see the tragedy behind the character’s ignorance.

It is too early to predict that this will be the best of the year, and I cannot see anything passing up this and “In Love.” The story arc travels at the right pace, and I did not want to put it down. All three main characters had nothing in common with me, but I still related to them. When everything starts coming together and you see the finish line, you cannot help but feel relief and pity simultaneously. You took this journey with all three of them and hoped for closure.
Power Reviewer
Cathryn Conroy

A Summer ChickLit Delight: An Endearing Novel About Death, Grief, and the Power of Love to Heal
It could happen! Well, maybe. OK, never. But that doesn't mean this book—a summer ChickLit delight—won't tug at your heartstrings and make you smile. It is an endearing novel about the tragedy of death, the anguish of grief, and the power of love to heal. And it's partly narrated by an octopus.

Written by Shelby Van Pelt, this is the story of Tova Sullivan, a 70-year-old woman whose husband died a few years ago and whose son died under mysterious circumstances some 30 years ago. To keep herself from drowning in grief, Tova takes a job—just to keep busy—cleaning the Sowell Bay, Washington aquarium at night. Tova loves to clean! While she often talks to the aquarium's diverse creatures while she's polishing the glass of their displays, it isn't long before she realizes that Marcellus, the aging, cantankerous giant Pacific octopus, is talking right back to her—well, in his own octopus way. Yes, Marcellus is a most unusual creature.

Meanwhile, we also meet Cameron Cassmore of Modesto, California, a 30-year-old who was abandoned at age 9 by his mother to live with his Aunt Jeanne. Cameron has no idea who is father is, and there is a persistent heartache and resentment for both these losses. One day, Cameron thinks he figures out his dad's identity, and if he's right this could change his life. The man is a millionaire. Cameron sets out to find him.

The two stories meet in a somewhat predictable but quite delightful way. This is a tender, almost magical novel that explores both the perils and wonders of what it truly means to grow up, as well as to grow old.

Bonus: You'll learn a lot of fun facts to know and tell about octopuses.
Power Reviewer

A Lovely Book
I absolutely loved this book and I'll never eat octopus sushi again! A few years ago I read Sy Montgomery's book The Soul of an Octopus and learned what intelligent creatures octopuses are. Van Pelt builds a story around Marcellus, a Pacific Giant Octopus; Tova, who is the night cleaner at the aquarium where Marcellus is housed and Cameron, a young man who sets out to find his father. Marcellus is one of the narrators and he and Tova form a special bond. The writing is beautiful and the story is well-told. It is a poignant and touching book. I recommend it highly.
Bonnie Harvey

Disappointed that the author didn’t follow up more on Marcellus the Octopus. Simply dropped that story line half way through. Misleading cover and book description.
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