Monday, September 13, 2010

Review: Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier

Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: HarperCollins, 2009

Two Amazing Women

Elizabeth 1805 , when her brother marries he sends his three unmarried sisters to live in a small cottage in the seaside town of Lyme Regis in Dorset. Although they would live in straitened circumstances here for the rest of their lives Lyme Regis did provide the intelligent and scientifically-minded Elizabeth with the shores and cliffs she needed to pursue her interest in fossil fish. On a visit to a cabinet-maker in town Elizabeth first meets his young daughter.....

Mary Anning.........well known in her community as the survivor of a lightening strike when she was a baby Mary collects fossils and sells them to tourists to help supplement the family income. Despite the fact Mary is from a poorer social background and there is a  20 years age difference she and Elizabeth become friends. Elizabeth will teach Mary to read and write, to write notes and label her finds, to read and understand the science behind her love of fossils.
Portrait of Mary Anning

An Unladylike Pursuit, dirty and mysterious!

Both women were considered strange and eccentric. In a time when marriage was the ultimate goal for women two spinsters spending their lives digging in the sand was considered most unsuitable behaviour. A world where Elizabeth is embarrassed at having to walk a London street on her own. where her sex forbids her crossing the threshold of the Geological Society and the sad knowledge that no matter how worthy her written articles are they will never be published because she is a woman.

But when Mary discovers the full skeleton of a 'crocodile' , an ichthyosaur, the scientific world begins to take notice . It is hard to believe that a mere 200 years ago it was thought that the world was only 6000 years old and God's plan for all his creatures did not include extinction.
"This idea was too radical for most to contemplate. Even I, who considered myself open-minded, was a little shocked to be thinking it, for it implied that God did not plan out what He would do with all the animals He created. If He was willing to sit back and let creatures die out, what did that mean for us?"
It would be many years before Mary and Elizabeth received the recognition they deserved for their contribution to science. Although possessing far more knowledge than many of the fossilists she sold to, these gentleman were only too willing to exploit Mary and use their own names on labels and articles about her specimens. In later life a friend would say...
 "She says the world has used her ill...these men of learning have sucked her brains, and made a great deal of publishing works, of which she furnished the contents, while she derived none of the advantages."
Tracy Chevalier's writing evokes the time and place perfectly but don't expect big events or lots of action and adventure. As can be expected from a tale of two early 19th century unmarried women who spend most of their time wandering on the seashore the pace is leisurely and quiet but I found it a pleasure to read and I learnt a great deal in the process. Lovely historical fiction.

Historical Tapestry ABC Challenge

R is for Remarkable


  1. I have this book! Now I want to read it!

    Thanks for your continued participation. I am not sure, but I have a feeling that R is going to be the first letter that I miss the deadline for!

  2. It's one challenge I really enjoy but those two weeks sure go fast. I was pushing the deadline myself this time.

    I hope you will read and enjoy Remarkable Creatures.

  3. Sounds different, the story that is. I would just have to try and see if it's for me.
    Glad you liked it

  4. I've enjoyed Chevalier's previous work so this one is on my tbr list. Great review.

  5. This sounds fascinating -- I've always been intrigued by Mary Anning. After reading your review, especially where you described how well this author evokes the time and place, I will be looking for this one.

  6. I listened to this the iPod this winter. I loved it. Our cold weather fit perfectly with the cold and windy beach. Right after, I found out that there is another ficition about Mary Anning. It is Curiosity by Joan Thomas. At the time it was only released in the UK, and I have still not been able to find one over here. I can't wait to read that one also.


  7. Linda & Stephanie - I hope you will read an enjoy!

    Kathy - thanks for the mention of Curiousity which I haven't heard of but will look out for. Mary Anning was such an amzing person.