Saturday, September 5, 2009

Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier

From the moment she's struck by lightning as a baby, it is clear Mary Anning is marked for greatness. When she uncovers unknown dinosaur fossils in the cliffs near her home, she sets the scientific world alight, challenging ideas about the world's creation and stimulating debate over our origins. In an arena dominated by men, however, Mary is soon reduced to a serving role, facing prejudice from the academic community, vicious gossip from neighbours, and the heartbreak of
forbidden love. Even nature is a threat, throwing bitter cold, storms, and landslips at her. Luckily Mary finds an unlikely champion in prickly, intelligent Elizabeth Philpot, a middle-class spinster who is also
fossil-obsessed. Their relationship strikes a delicate balance between fierce
loyalty and barely suppressed envy. Despite their differences in age and
background, Mary and Elizabeth discover that, in struggling for recognition,
friendship is their strongest weapon. Remarkable Creatures is Tracy Chevalier's
stunning new novel of how one woman's gift transcends class and gender to lead
to some of the most important discoveries of the nineteenth century. Above all,
it is a revealing portrait of the intricate and resilient nature of female

I had no idea who Mary Anning was, in fact when A. told me we had been offered an ARC my first thought was that it might be nice to read a book set in Lyme Regis after reading about it in my favourite Jane Austen novel, Persuasion. Then I went to Wikipedia to find a bit more on Anning.

There are two main characters in the story though. Not just Mary Anning but also Elizabeth Philpot, an older woman of a higher class who befriends Mary due to their common interest in searching the beach for curies. The story is told by both of them in turns and if Mary's story is mainly about the fossils, Elizabeth also mentions her sisters, their lack of marriage prospects and her feelings regarding being a spinster. One of the things the book addresses is how little power women had and how little they were valued and considered in the scientific world and in society in general. Elizabeth feels very protective towards Mary and after having been friends for long the two have a falling out when Mary falls in love for someone she can never marry and Elizabeth tries to advise her not to feel too much and not to endanger her livelihood. But everything is resolved when Elizabeth goes to London to try to see Mary's find given the proper recognition so its once again the fossils that bring them together...

I do think Chevalier managed to write well rounded characters, however they felt a bit cold and unsympatetic to me and I failed to understand the fascination they had with the fossils. I do like her writing style that I find very evocative of the period and very easy to read but what I enjoyed the most was the dialogues regarding God's creatures and how Mary's strange find could be included in the biblical idea of creation, it was a pity that that ended up not so developed as I hoped for.
Grade: 3.5/5

1 comment:

  1. I'm sorry that this book was not a hands down winner for you. I have read a couple of books by Chevalier, and have to say that a few of them were a bit forgettable. I did really like The Girl With the Pearl Earring though.