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 them from her tank.
Come morning Richard is dead.
As the investigation uncovers bruising in Richard’s throad, each of the guests come under suspicion: the school friend, the studion 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.
Thank you to Steven at Hodder Books for sending me this striking finished copy of The Octopus. I found this to be an original and brilliant debut novel. The writing takes a bit of getting used to because although told in a then and now format, the writing is interspersed, written as ‘reflections’ or ‘flashbacks’ so switching between now and then within chapters. This actually worked well as Elspeth, the ex wife and main protagonist takes the reader through the tale, told in the first person, her voice. At times I did have to pause to get my bearings but this was easily done and the story was easy to follow.
Set in the glamourous world of acting, the reality is anything but. The key cast; the selected party guests are all playing a part, craving or clinging on to their success. There is a desperate element to this story as the highly successful, now deceased film director plays his guests, using his power to control and abuse, forcing questions about how well people actually know each other.
And in the background is the Octopus, Persephone, ever present and watching, lurking in its giant tank in Richard’s LA home. Sinister and malevolent the Octopus acts as a metaphor, kept by Richard, beautiful and strange, compliant but loathing of its jailor.
The story is gleeful, it is dark and decadent, it stimulates the imagination and offers few answers. An exploration of power, the abuse of power and a satisfying scenario when a powerful and abusive man gets his comeuppance. Or does he? Have you read The Octopus, what did you think?
About the Author
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. This is her first novel.