“What is it like, we wonder at each meeting, in shared meals and secrets and silences, with each touch and glance, to be you?”
I had not been reading the Soul of an Octopus long when I began to slip between its words into another book, floating just beneath the surface, exploring not the secret lives of octopuses but of humans from a distinctly not-human lens. It was then that I realized this book was going to be so much more than a romp through octopus-land.
Of course, the book, by its own declaration, involves much octopus-romping, great, fun octopus-romping. I learned so much about the mysterious, dazzling, fantastical eight-armed alien-wizard-shape-shifters of the oceans. I’ve never been terribly fascinated with octopuses and certainly have never wished to touch one if I met one, but this book has challenged all of that. Befriending an octopus suddenly seems intriguing, adventurous, and possibly worth the risks. That’s partly thanks to the octopus, as a collective set of creatures, for being awe-inspiring and awfully good subject material. That’s also largely thanks to Sy Montgomery, our intrepid author, for being good at writing. Through her beautiful use of language and personable narration, Montgomery takes us by the hand on a trip to the New England Aquarium and Beyond. She vividly portrays the personalities and quirks, the decisions and actions of the octopuses she meets and slips biological trivia in amongst the romping. Thus, the ordinarily dry and vibe-killing business of factual information kills no vibes. Cleverly, Montgomery structures the narrative around meeting and getting to know individual octopuses and parallels the octopuses’ arcs with the lives of the people she meets in the process. Thus, for all of the barriers separating us from octopuses (they live in water; we don’t. they have eight arms; we don’t. they have dexterous suckers; we don’t.), entering their world in the Soul of an Octopus feels easy, natural.
For me, The most fascinating, eye-opening moments were when my view as a human and as a creature on this planet were expanded simply from thinking about humans and human life from the perspective of the non-human world.
However, if all you want is a fun, engaging read to pass the nights, the Soul of an Octopus delivers; there’s adventure, emotion, humor, the mysterious and unexpected. If animals or marine biology are your thing, this book is no let-down. If you’re like me, and you enjoy thinking about everything, turning it inside out and backwards just to see what you can glean from it, then, too, this book will be a joy to read.
The octopus the Myth has served as the basis for so many creators of fantasy and science fiction creatures throughout the years. The octopus the Cephalopod, observant inhabitant of the oceans of the Earth, is just as fantastical but, amazingly, marvelously, excitingly, real. So go ahead. Add the Soul of an Octopus to your list, even if you’ll only get to it three years later (like I did 🙂 ).