1 January 2024 Susannah

Remarkably Bright Creatures

Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt

Shelby Van Pelt’s novel Remarkably Bright Creatures was recommended to me by my sister Rachel and also by my friend and invaluable assistant Cheryl, who makes sure this newsletter reaches you each month. I listened to it (extremely well read by Marin Ireland and Michael Urie) and was enchanted. It is the American author’s first novel and has become a New York Times best-seller. I can understand why.

It’s a novel about a woman of Swedish descent whose only son drowned and whose husband has died. She works as a cleaner at the local aquarium and there develops an unusual and heart-warming relationship with a Giant Pacific octopus, who is named Marcellus. Part of the story is told from her perspective, part from that of the octopus, and the third part comes from a troubled young man searching for a father. It’s all set in a small coastal town in Washington state and gives a vivid picture of a small-town community in which everyone knows everyone’s business. It’s a novel about loneliness and grief, and yet is wonderfully comforting, at times very funny, original and moving. I just loved it. I dare you to read it and not fall in love with Marcellus! I think this novel would also be an excellent choice for book groups, as it raises interesting issues for discussion.

On the subject of octopuses/octopi (I checked, and both are acceptable plurals), do consider watching the wonderful Netflix documentary My Octopus Teacher.

Have you read this book? Can you suggest another original and moving title? Tell me your thoughts by leaving a comment.

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Featured image- Shelby Van Pelt, https://www.harpercollins.com/blogs/authors/shelby-van-pelt; Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt, https://shelbyvanpelt.com/books/remarkably-bright-creatures/; Water texture image by wirestock on Freepik, https://www.freepik.com/free-photo/closeup-pool-water-texture_28741694.htm/

Comments (6)

  1. Jenny Gray

    Thank you for this recommendation. I loved the book and absolutely loved the documentary. Both highly recommended by me as well!

  2. Gaby Meares

    I too was recommended Remarkably Bright Creatures, and listened to the audio – it was outstanding, and was my favourite fiction book of 2023. It was incredibly moving. And yes, I have seen My Octopus Teacher and can never eat calamari again!

  3. Malvina Yock

    I read this when it first came out, loved it, then took it to my book club with a rave review. To my somewhat distress, it was hooted out when I mentioned that part of the book was from Marcellus’ POV – some members were a bit derogatory and couldn’t get their heads around that, whereas I thought it was inventive writing. I felt crushed, but now am vindicated by your glowing review. My cover has a picture of the red carved Swedish horse on the cover, not the octopus, and as I’d bought one of those little horses in Stockholm markets I was instantly drawn to the book for its cover – then bought it when I read the blurb. A winner all round, IMHO.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I loved hearing your experience of the book, Malvina. So interesting that your book club reacted strongly to the idea of parts being narrated by the octopus. Those were my favourite bits!!! The book has been a best seller so plenty of other readers have loved it.
      I remember those Dala horses in Stockholm. My audio book version also had one on the cover and I kept wondering why until close to the end, when all is revealed. I thought it was a gorgeous book!

  4. Maria

    This reminded me of the story of The Shape of Water too. I saw the Sally Hawkins movie, which was enjoyable but not enough to tempt me to read the book. However, given Susannah’s endorsement, I’ve added Remarkably Bright Creatures to my reading list 📚

  5. Rosaleen Kirby

    Dear Susannah, Happy New Year! To you, Ian, the children and grandchildren. It struck me that the plot of this novel sounds rather like the plot of the film with Sally Hawkins; The shape of water. I also haven’t seen the film, but it was much talked about at the time. I hope this year is a great one for you and I look forward to reading some of these recommendations. Currently reading Wifedom. Is it me or is this font tiny???

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