Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Remarkable Creatures - Tracy Chevalier

Summary: From the moment she's struck by lightning as a baby, it is clear Mary Anning is different. Though poor and uneducated, she discovers on the windswept beaches of the English coast that she has a unique gift: "the eye" to spot fossils no one else can see. When Mary uncovers an unusual fossilized skeleton in the cliffs near her home, she sets the religious fathers on edge, the townspeople to gossip--and the scientific world alight. In an arena dominated by men, however, Mary is barred from the academic community; as a young woman with uncommon interests, she is suspected of sinful behavior. Nature is a threat, throwing bitter cold, storms, and landslips at her. And when she falls in love, it is with an impossible man.

Mary finds an unlikely champion in prickly Elizabeth Philpot, a middle-class spinster recently exiled from London, who shares her passion for scouring the beaches. Their relationship strikes a delicate balance between fierce loyalty, mutual appreciation, and barely suppressed envy. Ultimately, in the struggle to be recognized in the wider world, Mary and Elizabeth discover that friendship is their greatest ally.

Remarkable Creatures is an inspiring novel of how one woman's gift transcends class and social prejudice 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 friendship. (Summary from book - Image from amazon.com )

My Review: I’ve long been an admirer of Tracy Chevalier. Not only because it’s incredibly fun to say her last name, but because I adored Girl with a Pearl Earring and The Virgin Blue and highly recommend them. Her later works – The Lady and the Unicorn and Falling Angels - didn’t sit as well with me and I must confess that because of my mild disappointment with them I didn’t even start Brightly Burning. However, I was instantly caught by the premise of this novel. I’ve always been fascinated by the earth - it’s formation, history, and all that that entails - and decided to give this one a whirl despite my feelings for the last few of her books.

I’m very glad I did. It reminded me of why I loved Chevalier’s writing in the first place. Her stories have an understated and calming elegance that is easy to sink in to and surprisingly captivating. Remarkable Creatures is a beautiful historical fiction, set in a time when the concept of an extended version of history, or even an extinct species, was beginning to shake the foundations of certain longstanding and devoutly held religious beliefs. I LOVED that it made me dissect my own beliefs about evolutionism vs. creationism and how (or if) the two could ever be reconciled. I think they can, but that’s another post for a different blog.

Beyond the opportunities offered for introspection, Remarkable Creatures is moving story about friendships gained, lost, and rediscovered. The characters of Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot were stunningly written and based on actual women who made real and significant contributions to the early geological community and never really received their due credit during their lifetimes. Despite their differences in class and education, they were able to form a bond over shared interests and it was fascinating to “watch,” through their alternating narrations, how each of them viewed the world. It was refreshing to read a book that wasn’t inordinately focused on some sappy, unrealistic romance, but instead dwelt in the deeper emotional territory of friendship, respect, and loyalty between women.

Overall, I recommend this book to anyone who has loved Tracy Chevalier before. It’s on a different track than Girl with a Pearl Earring and The Virgin Blue but it still resonated with me in the same quiet way.

My Rating: 4 Stars. As an added bonus, a sensitive reader will find very little if anything to object to (if my memory serves) in terms of language, sex, etc.

Sum it up: Chevalier regains some of her former glory with this story of scientific upheaval, true friendship, and fossils.


Sweet Em said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sweet Em said...

So, I'll be honest - "The Virgin Blue" is on my list of books I almost loved but instead officially hate. But it WAS Chevalier's first novel (I think) so maybe I should give her a second chance.

Eeleen Lee said...

I loved this novel because it combines science with literature, and portrays strong women

Unknown said...

I enjoyed reading your review very much. Makes me want to read the book now.
If you would like to, please stop by at my website: http://wiseowlbookreviews.com
I have a great giveaway going on.

I just became a "follower". Good work, all of you. Eileen

Unknown said...

P.S Congratulations on bringing a new reader into this world.


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