Friday, October 29, 2010

book review: Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier

Remarkable Creatures: A NovelThe backstory: I've read and enjoyed all of Tracy Chevalier's historical fiction novels about real people (Falling Angels,  the story of Emmaline Pankhurst and the British suffrage movement is my favorite), so I was excited to read her most recent novel.

The basics: Remarkable Creatures is the story of two female fossil collectors in the 1800's: Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot. The two women become friends after Elizabeth and her two other single sisters move from London to Lyme, England when their brother marries.


My thoughts: Tracy Chevalier makes history come alive. I knew nothing of Mary of Elizabeth when the novel began, but I quickly became engrossed in their stories. The women take turns narrating alternating chapters, but I found myself enjoying Elizabeth's story so much more than Mary. I enjoyed Mary more in the chapters Elizabeth narrated than when I saw the world through her eyes.

While the novel is the story of these two women, it's also a fascinating exploration of a world struggling to rectify its religious beliefs with increasingly strong evidence of fossils of extinct creatures. The novel explored the city of Lyme, the joys and struggles of fossil hunting, the realities of women who do not marry in the early 1800's, and the compelling conflicts that can challenge both science and religion. 
"I had discovered from conversations I’d had about fossils with the people of Lyme that few wanted to delve into unknown territory, preferring to hold on to their superstitions and leave unanswerable questions to God’s will rather than find a reasonable explanation that might challenge previous thinking. Hence they would rather call this animal a crocodile than consider the alternative: that it was the body of a creature that no longer existed in the world. This idea was too radical for most to contemplate. Even I, who considered myself open-minded, was a little shocked to be thinking it, for it implied that God did not plan out what He would do with all of the animals He created. If He was willing to sit back and let creatures die out, what did that mean for us? Were we going to die out too? Looking at that skull with its huge, ringed eyes, I felt as if I were standing on the edge of a cliff. It was not fair to bring Mary to the edge with me."

I began this novel while vacationing on Cape Cod earlier this month, and it was the perfect setting for this book that takes place by the sea. As usual, Tracy Chevalier has turned a compelling historical setting into an immensely readable knowledge. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, but I do think I would have loved it even more if Elizabeth Philpot were the only narrator.

The verdict: Like the best of historical fiction, Remarkable Creatures offers an honest look at the time the novel is set in as well as revelations for the modern reader about our world.

Rating: 4.25 stars (out of 5)
Length: 320 pages
Publication date: The paperback came out October 26, 2010
Source: I received this book for review from the publisher

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6 comments:

  1. I read Falling Angels a few years ago, and really liked it. Since then, I have collected a few of Chevalier's other books, but haven't gotten the chance to read them yet. After reading this review, I think I'd also like this one. The plot sounds rather interesting, and it's not something that I've read much about. Thanks for the insightful review. This one is going on my list!

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  2. I love historical fiction and have been thinking about reading this one so I am glad to see you liked it so much!

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  3. I thought this was very good as well. Glad you enjoyed it Carrie.

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  4. Hi--I've found my way via Teresa at Shelf Love. I really like Tracy Chevalier and have read almost all her books, but haven't yet had a chance to read this one--it sits on top of my TBR pile at the moment, however! I've yet to read a bad review of this book!

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  5. I LOVE Tracy Chevalier. I definitely want to read this one.

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  6. There is just something magical with Tracy Chevalier's writing. I read Girl With a Pearl Earring last year and fell in love with it. I have The Virgin Blue sitting on my shelves to read as well -- now I have to put this one on there! GREAT REVIEW!

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Thank you for taking the time to comment. Happy reading!