Shelby Van Pelt’s debut novel, Remarkably Bright Creatures is a full stop flat out masterpiece. This may be cliche, but words are not enough to express the way I feel about this novel and especially its surprise, unexpected, delightful sometimes narrator Marcellus, the giant Pacific Octopus with three hearts of gold. I won’t spoil it but it is safe to say that tears were shed in a way that I have not cried over a book being so beautiful and moving since grade school and my time with Charlotte’s Web or Bridge to Terabithia.
Before I dive into a little summary, you need to also know that this is a book that I cannot wait to read again, and probably will read on a yearly basis. It is just one of those books - a comfort book. A book so good that it stays with you, and will stay with me, and ask to be read again in my time of need. So, standing ovation, bravo, and thank you Ms. Shelby Van Pelt, I am forever a fan.
Remarkably Bright Creatures is the story of Tova, a woman in her later years who is trying to start the next chapter, the last chapter, of her life. It is also the story of Marcellus, an Octopus who is on the last chapter of his life and he opens the book with a gorgeous narrative about his life in captivity and his experiences behind the glass, in a tank in an aquarium. His plaque reads that “Octopuses are remarkably bright creatures.” And throughout the novel, Marcellus shows us just how bright he is, and in doing so, how bright humans can also be, eventually with a little prodding and help.
Tova cleans the aquarium at night and develops a special relationship with Marcellus. She is also searching for a way to heal from the death of her son, when he was 18, and her husband, more recently. Her son’s death was an event that shocked the entire town and moving on from it has been difficult for Tova. The novel winds its way through, shifting narration between our delightful Marcellus, Tova, and a young man named Cameron who starts cleaning the aquarium, and meets Marcellus, after Tova suffers a bit of an injury on the job.
The story is, as mentioned, so good. It is a pleasure to read. The connections between Marcellus, Tova, and Cameron weave in and out so nicely, and the conclusion of the book is so very satisfying and sweet. I recommend it, five stars, all the way for anyone searching for a book that gets them back into reading again, with a passion, and for anyone who loves a story that is about family, humanity, and animals.
Check it out wherever you can get your hands on books - it is well worth it and I cannot wait to find out what Shelby Van Pelt has for us next!
Shelby Van Pelt
Harper Collins, May 2022