Saturday, 24 April 2010

Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier


DATE READ: April 2010

NOTES: Mary Anning lived in Lyme Regis in the early 19th century. She had a good eye for finding fossils on the beach which she sold to visitors. When she located an ichthyosaur and a plesiosaur she attracted the attention of serious collectors and scientists.

From this simple story Tracy Chevalier has created an enthralling novel. Poor working-class Mary strikes up a friendship with impoverished middle-class Elizabeth Philpot. They are both obsessed with finding fossils – a hobby for Elizabeth but a financial necessity for Mary. Their unlikely friendship has its ups and downs because of class differences and petty jealousies. What Chevalier does brilliantly is create for the modern day reader an understanding of the restrictions placed on women at that time. Although Mary had a natural gift for finding fossils this was not acknowledged by the men who bought them from her and subsequently displayed them in museums or wrote research papers about them.

Also woven into the story is the growing understanding that the fossils they are finding could be of creatures that are now extinct. This idea was almost blasphemous as the Book of Genesis was considered to be the literal truth by most people.

The Remarkable Creatures of the title could be the pre-historic beasts unearthed by the fossil hunters. But I am sure that it is Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot who are the truly remarkable creatures – struggling against prejudice, envy and greed in a man’s world.

A lovely read.

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