Thursday, January 14, 2010

Remarkable Creatues by Tracy Chevalier

As soon as I read the premise of Remarkable Creatures a few months ago, I knew it was a book for me. Set in the early 19th century, this novel revolves around the lives of two very different women who are brought together through their love of hunting fossils. I've always had an interest in and fascination for fossils and love reading about geology. 

Mary Anning is a young girl who's family makes the majority of their living by finding and selling fossils in the seaside town of Lyme Regis. Elizabeth Philpot is one of three spinster sisters who are sent to live in Lyme Regis when their brother marries. Elizabeth, looking for something to occupy her time, takes to the beach to look for fossils and there befriends Mary. As the years progress and Mary discovers more and more important fossils, including ichthyosaurus and plesiosaurus, her world opens up to embrace scholars from around the country who come to meet and learn from her. Elizabeth lingers on the fringes of Mary's ambitions, protecting her and rescuing her family from various disasters. Soon, however, one of Mary's scholars comes between them and their friendship is torn, perhaps never to be repaired. Told in first-person by Mary and Elizabeth in alternating chapters, we get a sense of each character's thoughts and experiences apart from each other. Elizabeth's voice is much stronger than Mary's and, I felt, more authentic. I found myself enjoying the chapters told in Elizabeth's voice and being jarred when Mary's chapters arrived. I did find Mary to be a fascinating character, however, and was intrigued to discover that both she and Elizabeth really existed. This novel is based on true facts and people, which I should have known as I think Chevalier often uses history as the basis for her novels. Anyhow, I wasn't blown away by this book - it was merely pleasant. I wasn't convinced that their friendship was as important to either of them as the author makes it out to be and I really think Mary's voice was off.

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