By Debbie Stone and Gini Cunningham
Gini: Several years ago I read The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery, a renowned animal science researcher.
On many occasions thereafter I recommended this read to Debbie as a perfect book club selection. She hesitated as she smiled endulgently, but now she understands how that book mesmerized me. Having read Soul first, I know of the amazing talents of octopuses; without this base I believe I would doubt the assertions in Van Pelt’s book.
Many of the escapades described by Montgomery are woven into our current read and are detailed in the Epilogue. I recommend that you read both and if you have children/grandchildren, include Inky, a delightful picture book by Montgomery relating octopus adventures.
Tova Sullivan, our main character, works at the Sowell Bay Aquarium near Seattle to fill in spare time after the death of her husband.
She notes unexplained events at the aquarium: missing sea cucumbers; slick marks streaking the floor; aquarium lids awry; a wise eye observing her every move. The answer to these remarkable exploits leads to a friendship with a giant Pacific octopus, Marcellus. Because Tova is patient and kind, her relationship with this mollusk as he reaches the end of his short, 4-year life, is pure, honest, and believable.
Tova also seeks answers to her son Erik’s disappearance when he was 18. A variety of characters add to the plotline of discovery as potential solutions arise to solve some of the mysteries entwined in this book.
Sometimes extra twists can be irritating as the reader travels down dead-end alleys and roads that tumble off cliffs. Van Pelt has done a good job of balancing her characters while maintaining focus. I admit, the end is tidy – and you will remember that tidiness drives me crazy, but in this book it works. The loose ends knit together without causing dismay at the unlikelihood that anything could be bundled so snuggly. The only “complaint” is the title word “Creatures” as there is only one, Marcellus, unless every human mentioned in the book is defined as a creature. I didn’t feel that intent in her writing.
Debbie: I loved this book! I will admit that I didn’t seem that interested in a book about an octopus when Gini first mentioned the book by Sy Montgomery for book club last year, but later saw a news clip about Octopuses on CBS Sunday Morning and… I was hooked. On Octopuses. Just trust us! Read this book!
Of course, if you feel you need to read The Soul of an Octopus first, by all means do so. I am planning on reading it soon myself, but I disagree with Gini that you have to have read it to appreciate Remarkably Bright Creatures. I appreciated and LOVED Creatures and I thought the title a perfect fit, because of this quote by Marcellus the Octopus himself:
“Humans. For the most part, you are dull and blundering. But occasionally , you can be remarkabley bright creatures. Marcellus, Giant Pacific Octopus. The title has more to do with humans and not non-humans.
At the core, it is a story about human connections, the human spirit, family and friends. Mostly it is a character driven story, but the plot is definitely helped along by a giant Pacific octopus, who himself makes a connection - a friendship connection. There is also a second chance trope running throughout the story. All of the main characters grow, mature, and change during the course of the novel.
As Gini mentioned, it is a bit tidy at the end, but not too tidy. It has such a feel-good kind of tidy that it warms your heart. Sometimes, that’s just what you need - a charming, sweet, captivating read to make you smile. That’s exactly what this novel does. It is the author’s debut, so there is no backlist to look for, but I will be keeping my eye out for her future books.
I listened to this on audio and the narration is great. I definitely recommend this book to anyone at almost any age.
Gini: Okay. I stand corrected on the “creatures” part, however, even though Marcellus thinks humans are remarkable, I anoint only the octopus with this attribute. The characters are good; Tova approaches remarkable by her remarkable action at the end of the book, but I might better describe her as a good soul.