Remarkably Bright Creatures, by Shelby Van Pelt

About twenty years ago I visited my brother when he lived in Beaverton, Oregon. One day when I was on my own while he was at work, I spent several hours exploring the OMSI (Oregon Museum of Science and Industry.) The majority of the exhibits are highly visual and tactile, focusing on things like gravity and magnets, those that make for an interactive experience.

Except for one large, brown fish in a tank along a wall.

The tank was in a walking area, not a stop-and-look area–which was what everyone did–just walked on by. Its quiet occupant was largely ignored. As a curious, lone visitor not shackled to a tired or excited child, I was free to move through each area a little slower. Even after two decades I still remember this fish. He/She/It watched EVERYTHING. And I watched him watch. I watched him watch me watching him. And it was like everything else disappeared.

After a few minutes we were in a rhythm. I walked to one end of the tank. He swam to that end. I walked to the other end of the tank. He followed. I put my finger near the glass and moved it back and forth. He followed my finger. It was odd. It was memorable. It was beautiful. I spent eight hours touring the OMSI that day, chuckling at gleeful kids playing with static electricity, watching the IMAX films, going down in the submarine parked outside, treating myself to lunch and a requisite magnet from the gift shop. But the only real detail I’ve never forgotten is that fish.

So when I read about Marcellus the Great Pacific Octopus in Remarkably Bright Creatures, I was immediately transported back to that day. I cannot tell you the species of that fish. I cannot tell you its life span. I can tell you that there seemed to be an intelligence and a loneliness that was going unnoticed by everyone around us.

Marcellus, however, is acknowledged as a “remarkably bright creature.” In fact, he will tell you that himself. Yes, this is a book partly narrated by an octopus. And you will fall in love with him as he orchestrates certain events between the people he likes the most. How does he do this? You’ll need to discover that yourself. Suffice to say that there are two sets of people, some in California and some in Washington State. Little by little you will read about how their stories are interwoven. Marcellus will see to that, I assure you.

I have been watching emerging reviews for this debut novel for weeks and all of them are positive. That amount of hype can often lead to disappointment. Not the case here. The accolades are well-deserved. If nothing else, you will never look at an octopus in the same way again. Perhaps you will think twice about underestimating any creature.

9.5/10 Stars

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