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The Lafayette

The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

Maddie’s Library: ‘Remarkably Bright Creatures’ comes up short on mystery

Remarkably Bright Creatures features the relationship between Marcellus the octopus and aquarium custodian Tova. (Photo courtesy of Goodreads)
“Remarkably Bright Creatures” features the relationship between Marcellus the octopus and aquarium custodian Tova. (Photo courtesy of Goodreads)

Marcellus is a great detective — he has keen observational skills and a photographic memory and he just might know the information that Tova and Cameron are trying to find out. He’s also a Giant Pacific Octopus, which complicates things just a bit.

Tova Sullivan, the protagonist of Shelby Van Pelt’s “Remarkably Bright Creatures,” is lonely. She lost her husband to cancer and her son, Eric, long ago under mysterious circumstances. She lives alone and works alone, methodically mopping the floor of Sowell Bay’s aquarium during the night shift.

Enter Cameron Cassmore. Down on his luck, a search for his long-lost father has brought him to Sowell Bay, where he fills in for the injured Tova at the aquarium. They are both searching for answers and Marcellus, inching closer towards the end of his lifespan and more clever than any human can imagine, is the only one who can help.

I understand why people loved this one, and I wanted to love it too. I respect an author for taking a creative risk, and Van Pelt did just that with Marcellus. Part of the book is written from his perspective, and this is where Van Pelt is most successful — Marcellus is a compelling character with a unique voice. His restlessness in his captivity tugs at your heartstrings, and the evolution of his relationship with Tova was the catalyst for my continued page-turning. I actually wish there was more time dedicated to the octopus’ point of view — a sentence I never thought I’d write in a newspaper.

Based on the discourse around this book, I seem to be in the minority with this opinion, but I think Van Pelt came up short in the execution of her intriguing premise. The big reveal comes too early for the readers and too late for the characters — we know too long before they do, and we’re just waiting around for them to find out.

Then, when the reveal is finally teased out, it’s unsatisfying. Readers are left to piece together the evidence into a patchwork solution that leaves more than the desired amount unsaid. The characters that Van Pelt so lovingly builds deserve true resolution, not what felt like late-addition throwaway lines of explanation.

I love a quirky, small-town story and this delivered in that sense, but I don’t think it quite measured up to its marketing as a mystery. Like I’ve always said, if you promise a cephalopod Sherlock Holmes you have to provide it in all its glory.

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About the Contributor
Madeline Marriott, Editor-in-Chief
Maddie (she/her) is a senior English major with a Government & Law minor. As the Editor-in-Chief, a Mentor Writing Associate, a Senior Student Contributor for Lafayette Communications, a Communications Intern for the Office of Sustainability, co-founder and Vice President of English Club, and a Senior Interviewer for Lafayette Admissions, no writing happens on campus without her knowing about it. Her Google Calendar would make your head spin. She is a die-hard Swiftie and Phillies fan, a collector of tote bags, a builder of a Hay Day empire, and an avid Goodreads and Letterboxd user. She smokes cigars and uses an old-timey typewriter and notepad in the newsroom.

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