After a while the mention of tentacles blurs into arms and now we're all shaking hand in hand in hand in hand in hand in hand in hand in hand. The suckers and slime is still there, but now behind them we see a brain that's thinking and looking back.
The Soul of an Octopus is what you get peering into the abyss of the oceans as they sit in large tanks of water surrounded by people working to make sure the octopuses feel right at home away from their natural habitat.
In detailing how the humans respond, feel and experience working with the sea creatures, Sy Montgomery takes a light into the minds of the octopuses. The writing doesn't impart emotions on them directly, careful on that line, but it does enough to make you wonder how much they are thinking, what is going on in their heads and overall what it's like to have eight independent thinking appendages.
There's heartbreak to be had, and it's all worth it for the time you spend growing with the octopuses. Captivity usually ends one way, and here it's no different, but it does at least allow us to marvel at their interactions, rituals and ultimately their being. From death that happens when no one is around, to the kind that is slow to fade, what we have here is an understanding that we're not that far apart.
Not content seeing the action from behind the glass, the action takes a dive or two, learning the ropes of all things SCUBA as Montgomery embeds us closer to the octopuses' world. Honest in the fear and failures of learning to breathe underwater and not freak out from the threat of the bends or hearing damage, it's that journey of dedication that opens it all up.
Naturally, The Soul of an Octopus focuses on the eight-legged sea creature, but it's the frame of other creatures who also live in and around the aquarium, not to mention the volunteers and staff, that really build out their impact and presence. Tales of mischief, of Kali running around after breaking free from a barrel, or watching on as Octavia diligently guards her unfertilised eggs, is a privilege given over freely.
The Soul of an Octopus: A Playful Exploration Into the Wonder of Consciousness is an open and touching look into the world of the octopus, showing what playful, complex and intelligent creatures they are.
The publisher provided a review copy.
Reviewed on Monday, 18 May 2015