Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier

A a child, there was little I loved more than playing in the dirt. Mudpies, drawing in the sand, rolling around in it… okay, I’m kidding on that last one.  But still, I loved to play in dirt and rock and once even dug quite a few holes in my backyard looking for fossils.

My grandmother was not amused.

Now that I’m grown, obviously I don’t play in dirt much any more.  Yet, I still love to look at fossils and wouldn’t really mind it if one of my children, who now love dirt and rock and fossils like I did, were to find one now.  Needless to say, Remarkable Creatures, the new historical fiction novel by Tracy Chevalier, definitely piqued my interest from the first moment I heard of it.

Remarkable Creatures is the story of Mary Anning a young working-class girl, who, along with her brother discovered what they thought was might be crocodile fossil in 1810 on the cliffs in southern England.  What they found, however, was an ichthyosaur, and this discovery shakes up the scientific community and their thinking about the creation of the world.  And it changes Mary’s life forever.

This book is also about Elizabeth Philpot, a transplanted London spinster who also has a fondness for fossils.   She strikes up an unlikely friendship with Mary and helps Mary and her family negotiate this new scientific arena dominated by men who would use Mary to further their own names and careers.  Elizabeth helps protect Mary from rivalry and ostracism, but can’t help protect Mary from her own heart.  Or from Elizabeth’s own jealousies.  

I loved this book.  I knew next to nothing about the way fossils were discovered.  To my mind, they had always been there, at the museum! It never occurred to me to wonder who first started discovering them and categorizing them, who was first curious enough to wonder where these monstrously large bones came from and what they were.  Honestly, I feel kinda stupid for not wondering, but there you are!  Remarkable Creatures definitely enlightened me, not only of the roles of men, but the roles women too played in this great age of discovery.  To know that a woman, a poor, uneducated, young woman no less, was one of the pioneers in fossil discovery is so empowering!  And to know her story is was all but lost to obscurity is horrifying.  Tracy Chevalier has done a masterful job of breathing life into these two women, these two very different women, and making them come alive again to tell their story.  I loved the way she alternated between their voices and how she was able to make each voice so unique.  It was easy to tell which woman was telling her story, just by the way she ‘spoke.’  Their lives, their loves, their work and friendship are alive again and such a pleasure to read.  This book isn’t only for those who might be interested in fossils, in history, in dirt; it’s also the story of friendship, love, and acceptance.  It’s a powerful story that any one should be proud to read.

Remarkable Creatures
Tracy Chevalier
Historical Fiction
Published by Dutton Adult
Format: Hardcover, 320 pages
On Sale: January 5, 2010
ISBN: 9780525951452

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15 thoughts on “Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier

  1. Great review! I wasn't too impressed with the latest Chevalier that I read but I loved Girl with Pearl Earring. You have me excited for this one, though, and I WILL be reading this someday. Thank you.
    .-= Care´s last blog ..A Wrinkle in Time =-.

  2. I listened to an interview with Chevalier about this book and I really REALLY want to read it! It looks so good, I'm glad you liked it, but that makes me want to get it even sooner. Too bad I'm number 49 on the library hold list! Maybe by May…
    .-= Lu´s last blog ..Grief and humor in Looking for Bapu =-.

  3. I guess I've never really thought about what it was like when people first started finding dinosaurs. And whenever I think of finding them, I always think of this really established operation of digging rather than an individual just chancing upon an intact fossil. This sounds great!

  4. Chevalier is one of my favorite authors. I haven't read this book yet, but I love how she finds undiscovered territories and peoples and brings them to live.

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