Remarkably Bright Creatures

Kajal Kapur posted under Book Review on 2024-06-02

Shelby Van Pelt's Remarkably Bright Creatures seemed to me as an intriguing premise: an octopus as a narrator. I expected a profound exploration of themes such as captivity, otherness, intelligence, and the respect for nature through the unique perspective of this intelligent sea creature. Unfortunately, the novel falls short of these expectations, delivering instead a conventional narrative with a plodding, predictable plot.

The story unfolds through three points of view. The first is that of Marcellus, the octopus, who offers moments of wit and insight, albeit sparingly. Marcellus's observations could have provided a compelling critique of human behaviour and captivity, but his reflections remain underdeveloped and fail to delve deeply into the rich thematic potential. In fact the anthropomorphism did not work for me at all.

The second perspective is Tova's, an elderly woman whose mundane life and predictable character arc lacked the vibrancy to captivate my complete attention. While her story did evoke some empathy, it often felt stagnant, contributing to the novel's overall sluggish pace.

The third and most grating perspective belongs to Cameron, a man-child whose incessant whining and irritatingly colloquial narration make his sections a chore to read. Cameron is such a horrible crybaby that he earns zero empathy from me. At 30 years old, every decision he makes is infantile and selfish. Although he becomes less horrible by the end, by then, my dislike for him is so entrenched that his character arc feels unconvincing.

Several aspects of the novel feel outdated and contrived. For instance, the prolonged hunt for a real estate agent could have been easily resolved with a simple Facebook search, avoiding unnecessary drama and time-consuming subplots. Cameron's immature behaviour, like walking around with chocolate on his face and smelling like other people's urine, is off-putting and detracts from any potential growth his character might have achieved.

Despite its flaws, Remarkably Bright Creatures has some redeeming qualities. The octopus detective element adds a whimsical charm, and the rich character descriptions offer moments of warmth. However, these positive aspects are overshadowed by the novel's shortcomings, particularly in character development and narrative execution.

I believe that Remarkably Bright Creatures squanders its unique premise. What could have been an engaging exploration of diverse intelligences and the human condition through the eyes of an octopus ends up as a mediocre tale with a predictable plot and lacklustre characters. It’s a disappointing read, especially since I hoped for a more thoughtful and innovative narrative.