Tuesday 25 August 2020

BLOG TOUR: The Octopus - Tess Little

When Elspeth arrives at her ex-husband’s house in the LA hills for his 50th birthday party, she’s expecting a huge crowd for the famous film director. Instead, there are just seven other guests and Persephone, Richard’s pet octopus, watching over them from her tank.

Come morning, Richard is dead.

As the investigation uncovers bruising in Richard’s throat, each of the guests come under suspicion: the school friend, the studio producer, the actress, the actor, the new boyfriend, the cinematographer, the manager and the ex-wife, Elspeth herself.

In the weeks following the party, stories of Richard’s past surface, colliding with memories of their marriage, and Elspeth begins to question not just who killed Richard, but why these seven guests were invited, and what sort of man would want to trap this mysterious, intelligent creature.

From the LA hills to the Norfolk marshes, The Octopus is a stylish exploration of power: the power of memory, the power of perception, the power of one person over another. 

What did I think?

Set in three parts with no chapters, it takes a little while to get used to the format of The Octopus as it jumps between past and present with only a space between the paragraphs to warn the reader of a timeline change.  Both timelines are intriguing though, so I didn't mind the flicking between them as it felt like a memory being replayed in your mind and the talented writing of Tess Little pulls all of the little scenes together to produce the bigger picture.

Film director Richard Bryant is celebrating his 50th birthday and invites seven guests to his party.  Expecting a lavish affair, the guests are surprised to find they are so small in number.  Nobody is more surprised to be invited to this exclusive dinner party than Elspeth, Richard's ex-wife, especially when their daughter Lillie isn't among the guests.  Visiting Richard's home for the first time, Elspeth is mesmerised by the aquarium spanning two floors containing a giant Pacific octopus named Persephone.

I found the guests very interesting, most of them from the film industry and they are as superficial and self-centered as I imagined.  I thought it was really nice of Richard (how wrong I was) to serve dishes relating to all of his guests and they all had fun guessing which dish related to each person, apart from Elspeth's dish as she seemed to be invisible and they didn't even notice that she hadn't been matched to a dish.  I was so mad!  Clearly as the 'ex-wife', Elspeth is of no value to those in the film industry so it's like they don't even see her.

When Richard is found dead the next day, the police start an investigation into his death.  Was it an accident or was it murder?  As each guest comes under suspicion, we learn more about their relationship with Richard and we start to see what kind of a man he really was.  As Elspeth tries to piece together events from that night, she starts to doubt her memory as her past and present collide - this was very cleverly done and really has you thinking about the reliability of your own memories.  Elspeth also knows something that the police don't know: Persephone is quite an escape artist and makes a habit of escaping her tank each night.  Could the octopus have killed Richard?

With very clever plotting, intriguing characters and mesmerising writing, Tess Little has written an extraordinary whodunnit thriller that has the feel of a modern-day Agatha Christie novel.  The characters are all displayed before us as we search for clues as to who the murderer might be and I loved building up these pictures of Richard's life and his interaction with the others.  I also loved Persephone's story; it's very fascinating and so poignant that I had a little lump in my throat at the end.

Although she has previously written short stories, The Octopus is Tess Little's debut novel and it's so captivating that I found it very difficult to put down.  With this clever and compelling debut, Tess Little has proven herself to be a very talented writer; she is definitely one to watch.  

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon

About the author:

Photo credit: Daniella-Shreir
Tess Little is a writer, historian, and Examination Fellow at All Souls College, University of Oxford, the entrance exam to which is deemed ‘the hardest exam in the world’ – questions have included ‘What is the use of magic?’ and ‘Improve the rules of any one sport’, though Tess answered a question on hip hop v. Eurovision. She is currently working towards her doctorate on the women’s liberation movement in the 1970s, having spent the last few years interviewing feminist activists and visiting archives across the UK, France, and the US. Her short stories and non-fiction have appeared in Words And Women: Two, The Mays Anthology, The White Review and on posters outside a London tube station. She was born in Norwich in 1992. The Octopus is her first novel.

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