Reviews of Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt

Remarkably Bright Creatures

A Novel

by Shelby Van Pelt

Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt X
Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt
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  • Published:
    May 2022, 368 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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About this Book

Book Summary

Winner of the 2022 BookBrowse Debut Award

For fans of A Man Called Ove, a charming, witty and compulsively readable exploration of friendship, reckoning, and hope that traces a widow's unlikely connection with a giant Pacific octopus.

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.

Day 1,299 of My Captivity


Each evening, I await the click of the overhead lights, leaving only the glow from the main tank. Not perfect, but close enough.

Almost-darkness, like the middle-bottom of the sea. I lived there before I was captured and imprisoned. I cannot remember, yet I can still taste the untamed currents of the cold open water. Darkness runs through my blood.

Who am I, you ask? My name is Marcellus, but most humans do not call me that. Typically, they call me that guy. For example: Look at that guy—there he is—you can just see his tentacles behind the rock.

I am a giant Pacific octopus. I know this from the plaque on the wall beside my enclosure.

I know what you are thinking. Yes, I can read. I can do many things you would not expect.

The plaque states other facts: my size, preferred diet, and where I might live were I not a prisoner here. It mentions my intellectual prowess and penchant for cleverness, which for some reason seems a ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!
  1. What kind of person do you think Marcellus would be if he were human? What qualities do Marcellus and Tova both share that make this remarkable friendship a success?
  2. Each of these characters --- animal and human --- need each other in a specific way, even if they don't realize this at first. What qualities bind these characters to each other? Are they connected by loss, grief or something else?
  3. On page 9, Tova empathizes with the sharks in the big aquarium tank, musing that she "understands what it means to never be able to stop moving, lest you find yourself unable to breathe." Why do you think she feels so compelled to keep busy? What would happen if she simply stopped?
  4. In contrast to how Tova keeps busy, Cameron emerges as a ...
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What I find exceptional about Remarkably Bright Creatures is the author's ability to capture those pivotal times in a life when one knows things are changing and must figure out how to adapt. Tova, for example, has endured the death of her husband and the decline of her peers over the past few years, and has to come to terms with the fact that she herself is aging and can no longer live in her vast, multi-storied house. Cameron, too, has his periods of self-reflection and revelation, and these scenes add an unexpected richness to the novel. The book combines realism with the supernatural; certainly an octopus capable of intervening in human affairs is an unlikely beast. But while Marcellus's actions are critical to the plot's ultimate resolution, it's the novel's underlying themes of grief, loneliness and change that propel it along...continued

Full Review Members Only (772 words)

(Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

Media Reviews

Business Insider
[B]rilliant upcoming novel about hope and reckoning.

Marie Claire
The best books about grief find a way to illuminate the darkness of loss, and Remarkably Bright Creatures offers a masterclass.

Washington Post
Remarkably Bright Creatures [is] an ultimately feel-good but deceptively sensitive debut about what it feels like to have love taken from you, only to find it again in the most unexpected places... . Memorable and tender.

As Van Pelt's zippy, fun-to-follow prose engages at every turn, readers will find themselves rooting for the many characters, hoping that they'll find whatever it is they seek. Each character is profoundly human, with flaws and eccentricities crafted with care. But what makes Van Pelt's novel most charming and joyful is the tender friendship between species, and the ways Tova and Marcellus make each other ever more remarkable and bright.

Infused with heartfelt humor, Van Pelt's elegant portrait of a widowed woman who finds understanding and connection with a clever octopus is refreshingly, if surprisingly, relatable. Despite the unorthodox relationship at its core, the debut novel offers a wholly original meditation on grief and the bonds that keep us afloat.
[A] beautiful novel about friendship and family.

Booklist (starred review)
A unique and luminous book.

Kirkus Reviews
A debut novel about a woman who befriends an octopus is a charming, warmhearted read.

Author Blurb Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney, author of Good Company and The Nest
Remarkably Bright Creatures is the rarest of feats: a book that manages to be wry and wise, charming and surprising, and features one of the most intriguing and satisfying characters I've encountered in fiction in a very long time—Marcellus the Octopus. I don't know how Shelby Van Pelt managed to make this uncommon tale sing so beautifully, but sing it does, and I defy you to put it down once you've started.

Author Blurb Helen Hoang, author of The Heart Principle
Truly original and touching, Remarkably Bright Creatures is a story of family, community, and optimism in spite of darkness. Prepare to fall in love with a most exceptional octopus.

Author Blurb Jamie Ford, author of The Many Daughters of Afong Moy and The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
Shelby Van Pelt has done the impossible. She's created a perfect story with imperfect characters, that is so heartwarming, so mysterious, and so completely absorbing, you won't be able to put it down because when you're not reading this book you'll be hugging it.

Author Blurb Kevin Wilson, author of Nothing to See Here
Remarkably Bright Creatures is a beautiful examination of how loneliness can be transformed, cracked open, with the slightest touch from another living thing. Shelby Van Pelt makes good on this wild conceit, somehow making me love a misanthropic octopus, but her writing is so finely tuned that it's a natural element of a larger story about family, about loss, and the electricity of something found.

Reader Reviews

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 ...   Read More
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...   Read More
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 ...   Read More

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 ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Dala Horses

Three wooden Dala horse figurines of different sizes, painted orange-red with additional ornate decorative patterns In Shelby Van Pelt's novel Remarkably Bright Creatures, Tova Sullivan treasures her collection of Dala horses brought to the United States from Sweden decades ago by her mother.

A Dala horse, also known as a Dalecarlian horse (or "Dalahäst" in Swedish), is a type of hand-carved, painted statuette in Swedish culture. According to Chintana Odell, an owner of Stockholm's Wooden Horse Museum, "It has such a strong identity and connection with Sweden that a Swede would feel at home anywhere in the world once she or he sees a Dala horse. It is almost sacred."

Imagery of horses has a long history in the country, where the animals have been associated with strength and respected for their usefulness to humans. The carved figurines ...

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