“Smart cookie. I am smart, but I am not a snack object dispensed from a packaged food machine. What a preposterous thing to say.”
A book with a snarky octopus named Marcellus? Sign me up! While I originally chose this book because I’m a sucker for animals and this is a book, if not the only book, that features an octopus as a narrator, by the end of it it is not hard to see why “Remarkably Bright Creatures” was on so many “best of” lists last year or why it’s continuing to be a book club favorite almost a year after its release.
After her husband dies, seventy-year-old Tova Sullivan starts working the night shift at the Sowell Bay Aquarium to keep busy. Keeping busy is the only way Tova doesn’t let her loneliness or grief about her son, Erik, who disappeared thirty years, overwhelm her. One night while cleaning Tova finds Marcellus in the breakroom, who has a knack for sneaking out of his tank and wandering around for a late-night snack. Deciding to keep his secret, Tova takes Marcellus back to his tank and starts talking to him as she would a friend. Over the weeks, curmudgeonly Marcellus, who is nearing the end of his life is surprised that he starts to care about Tova, and even more so when her stories turn out to coincide with his life when he was a younger octopus roaming free in the ocean. Soon, another employee named Cameron joins the aquarium as well, a young man who has a chip on his shoulder about the cards he’s been dealt and is determined to take what he believes is his.
Each chapter is from one of these characters’ points of view. Out of the three, Cameron was my least favorite character, but I can understand why he’s feeling lost and angry in certain parts of the story. My heart especially broke for Tova who goes through not only loss but change that comes with aging and acceptance. Marcellus, of course, was the star of the show for me, with his chapters being the most insightful and humorous. The story was slightly predictable about halfway through but I wasn’t bored and still very interested in how all the threads would come together, and I was not disappointed when they did. While the book does deal with sad subjects, there is also hope, friendship, and interconnectedness, and reminds us that even though there are struggles in life there are still things to look forward to, whether they are expected or not. Heartfelt and charming, it was a bittersweet feeling to finish but I’m glad to have read it.
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