Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier
Remarkable Creatures tells the story of two women from the 19th Century. Mary Anning, a poor and uneducated woman who was responsible for finding some truly remarkable creatures on the beach at Lyme Regis and Elizabeth Philpot whose own love of fossil hunting would bring the two together and make them hard and fast friends. The story begins when the Philpots move from London to Lyme Regis – basically as their brother is now marrying there will no longer be a place for them in his household and as their prospects of marriage are poor they are ‘retired’ off to spinsterhood in Lyme Regis. The sisters, now relegated to life with a much smaller social sphere find new things to occupy their time. Margaret, who is the youngest becomes involved in the social activities that Lyme has to offer, Louise becomes passionate about gardening and Elizabeth, after making a chance fossil discovery on a walk on the beach finds she has a new interest in that area.
I really enjoyed this novel, but then I do like historical fiction. In terms of the story there actually isn’t much of a tale being told really – not if you’re expecting a romance or goodies and baddies, a fight between good and evil or any sort of mystery. This is a very simple tale told very well. I like Tracy Chevalier – I have read all her previous novels, except for Burning Bright and I like her writing style. She is able to bring to life the period, the place and the characters so well. In Remarkable Creatures she has done a first class job of demonstrating the injustices to women of the period. Basically in not achieving marital status women became objects of ridicule although to a certain extent the fact that they did not have a husband did allow them more freedom than they would otherwise enjoy and certainly the friendship between Mary and Elizabeth, given their different social standing, would have been highly unlikely as would Elizabeth’s fossil collecting.
I would recommend this novel, it’s a very easy book to read and gives an excellent depiction of the period. I enjoyed reading about Mary Anning and the hard life that she led. I thought the descriptions of the fossils and the beach hunting was fascinating and you could practically feel the cold and experience the danger (as much of the collecting was carried out in winter after storms when fossils had been exposed by the sea – this was a dangerous occupation because of the chances of being cut off by incoming tides and also the possibility of landslides). And, I suppose most of all, I enjoyed reading about the friendship that developed between Mary and Elizabeth – they had their ups and downs with petty jealousies sometimes getting the better of them but they eventually realised that their friendship and companionship was truly and equally important to both of them.
Strangely enough I don’t actually have any criticisms of this book – although I did almost overlook reading it for some reason. I don’t know why, but having bought the book I then put it down and almost got to the position of putting it away (which means I will probably never read it!) Perhaps it’s the description on the jacket which isn’t compelling enough although I don’t really know how it could be improved on (as I pointed out earlier this is a very gentle story)?? That being said I’m very happy that I overcame my reluctance and picked it up – as I was very reluctant from there onwards to put it down until I’d finished reading it.