Tuesday, January 5, 2010
Review: Remarkable Creatures, by Tracy Chevalier
Remarkable Creatures is the “remarkable” story of Elizabeth Philpot and Mary Anning, two female paleontologists living in 1810s and ‘20s Lyme Regis, England. They were two different women: one a lady who moves to the seaside in light of her spinster status (at age 25, which made me laugh); and the other a working-class girl, twenty years apart in age but drawn together by their love of fossils.
I read this book in one sitting—sitting in the backseat of a car driving across Pennsylvania, within the space of four hours or so. I’m lucky that this was one of the books I brought along on my trip; this is the kind of story that really draws the reader in. What I love of Tracy Chevalier’s novels, both this one and her previous ones, is that she’s so versatile. She really gets to know her subject matter, researching it thoroughly. Paleontology is not my thing, but Tracy Chevalier makes it interesting for even the lay person to read about.
And yet, this book isn’t solely about paleontology; it’s also the story of a lifelong friendship. Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot had nearly nothing in common, except for a lifelong interest in the fossils they found upon the beach at Lyme Regis. The novel is told alternately from the points of view of the two main characters; each has a unique voice (right down to Mary’s rather endearing habit of calling vertebrae “verteberries.”). Elizabeth’s obsession with her spinster status got a bit on my nerves at time, and I enjoyed reading the story from Mary’s point of view much better than Elizabeth’s. Still, I loved the story and historical setting, both of which are highly engaging. In comparison with some of Chevalier’s other books (Girl With a Pearl Earring, Falling Angels, and The Lady and the Unicorn are my favorites), this book ranks up there with her best. This is an enduring story about the unlikely friendship between two women, one of which apparently inspired the tongue twister “she sells sea shells by the sea shore.”
Also reviewed by: S. Krishna's Books, A Garden Carried in the Pocket