Monday, 3 February 2014

Book Review: Remarkable Creatures - Tracy Chevalier

Synopsis - On a windswept English beach in the early 19th century, two women make discoveries that change the world.  and in so doing find friendship, pride - and trouble.

From the moment she's struck by lightning as a baby, it is clear Mary Anning is different.  Her discovery of strange fossilised creatures in the cliffs of Lyme Regis sets the world alight.  But Mary must face powerful prejudice from a male scientific establishment, not to mention vicious gossip and the heartbreak of forbidden love.  Then - in prickly, clever Elizabeth Philpot, a fossil-obsessed middle-class spinster - she finds a champion, and a rival.  Despite their differences in class and age, Mary and Elizabeth's loyalty and passion for the truth must win out...

Review -  I have read this for book group but it was already on my TBR, so this was no hardship.  It took me slightly longer to get into this story than my previous read by Tracy Chevalier - The Girl with the Pearl Earring.  However, it grew on me from about the half way mark when it got interesting.  Although I have been to Lyme Regis, I didn't know much about Mary Anning.

This is typical historical fiction, but what I like is that we are not focussing on Britain's monarchs over the past years but one of our greatest and possibly our first palaeontologist.  Although not trained in that field, she is perhaps more correctly, as written in the book a fossilist.  Mary was trained by her father to search for fossils and this was the way, after Richard Anning's death, the family came to earn their living by selling on their finds to some of the great collectors and scientists.  Upon meeting Elizabeth Philpott, Mary learns more about her finds.  Elizabeth does not have Mary's natural ability to search and dig out these specimens but she can read and write and is learned to some extent in this field.  Although, the relationship between the two very different people at the centre of the story was interesting, for me, the book really developed when the collectors were introduced and how they impacted on the relationship between Mary and Miss Philpott.  Particularly Colonel Birch for whom they both harboured different feelings.

As usual a well written story with plenty of detail and description in location and setting.  Likeable and believable characterisations weaving fiction alongside the factual information.  I liked the nod to Jane Austen as having possibly visited the Assembly Rooms and as the author mentions in her postscript Miss Austen was a visitor to the area so this was quite likely.  4*

ISBN 978-0-00-717838-4

Blog Archive