Friday, February 11, 2011

Literary Friday: Remarkable Creatures

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This week I read Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier.  Chevalier wrote the popular The Girl With the Pearl Earring, a historical novel about the Dutch Realism painter Vermeer. A couple of years ago, The Dixie Divas read Burning Bright, another historical fiction about William Blake.  I have read all of Chevalier's novels; she is one of my favorite writers.  My favorite of all Chevalier's books is The Lady and the Unicorn.

Remarkable Creatures is about the unlikely friendship between Elizabeth Philpot, a middle class London spinster transplanted to Lyme Regis, and Mary Anning, a working class local with a penchant for finding curies, or curiosities.  (These curiosities were often placed in specially built glass-front cabinets, or curios, to display them in people's homes).  During the early part of the nineteenth century, the world becomes obsessed with these curies, or fossils.  This new geological science seems to conflict with traditional theological beliefs about God and His creation.  Controversy does not deter Mary and Elizabeth as they comb the beaches of Lyme Regis looking for the "remarkable creatures" long extinct.   Although Mary has the eye for distinguishing between plain rocks and fossils, she is not taken seriously by the Oxford professors, elitist collectors, and other scientists because she is a woman. She is responsible for finding some of the most important scientific discoveries of her time, yet she is not allowed to participate in any formal studies.  Elizabeth describes Mary as a person who "leads with her eyes." She also goes on to say that they are the peoples she admires most: those who are led by their eyes.  Elizabeth is certainly "led by her chin" as she determinedly races to London to defend her friend's latest discovery before a French scientist declares Mary a fraud.

This book is so well-written: there are many things I enjoyed while reading it. I liked the way Chevalier wrote it in first person, alternating between Mary's point of view and Elizabeth's. Based on historical persons and fact, Chevalier, as usual, outdid herself with her research. The danger of searching for fossils due to possible "landslips" or landslides does not deter Mary in her daily quest for fossils. She is one brave lady in the book, and was even braver, I am sure, in real life.  Jane Austen visited Lyme Regis, and even requested that Mary Anning's carpenter father repair a broken lid on a chest.  She easily could have met Elizabeth or one of her two spinster sisters (Louise and Margaret) in one of the assembly rooms at the seaside resort.  As a matter of fact, this book reminds me of an Austen novel, probably due to the time period, a woman's "prospects" for marriage based on class and circumstances, and a (surprising) benevolent British officer.

If you have never read any of Tracy Chevalier's novels, you have been missing out on some wonderful books.  There are a few writers who never disappoint me, and Tracy Chevalier is one of them.  If you like science just a little bit, you will absolutely love Remarkable Creatures.

Until next time...

Happy reading!
Ricki Jill

6 comments:

  1. Ricki, I gave you an award on my blog! Come on over & check it out & let me know if you accept! Allison @ leomommyof4.blogspot.com

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  2. Hi Ricki ,this has to go on my reading list for sure ,I love historical novels amongst many other types of novels, another thing we have in common, you have inspired me to do my own book review,I will strit next week:)

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  3. This sounds like a good one. Just the cover alone makes me want to read it.

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  4. I love historical novels, I wish she had been searching for antiques instead of fossils LOL! Yet, it sounds like a great book!

    Carol

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  5. This sounds like a really interesting book. When we were in the UK 8 years ago we went to Lyme Regis to see the fossils in the museum as my husband loves fossils. Lyme Regis is famous for its ammonites and we found one while walking along the beach. I have fond memories of our day spent there and I'm sure I would enjoy this book. I'll have to keep it in mind.

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  6. Hi Ricki ,
    Thank you for adding yourself as a follower and writing such kind words ! I love reading and I would be glad to join your reading party !

    Happy Valentine's Day !

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