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Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier

Remarkable Creatures (original 2009; edition 2010)

by Tracy Chevalier

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Title:Remarkable Creatures
Authors:Tracy Chevalier
Info:Dutton Adult (2010), Hardcover, 320 pages
Collections:audiobooks in my library, Your library

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Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier (2009)

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English (151)  Spanish (5)  French (5)  Italian (2)  All languages (163)
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The title, “Remarkable Creatures” refers both to the two women whom this tale is about and to the fossils that they collect, which many call monsters. Elizabeth Philpot, a spinster of middle income, moves to Lyme Regis with her two single sisters to have a place more affordable than London. The reason Lyme Regis is selected is because of the beach cliffs which regularly disgorge the fossils that Elizabeth studies and collects. Upon moving there, she makes the acquaintance of Mary Anning, child of the working class, who hunts fossils to sell to the tourists. Mary has the eye for finding them, as did her father who taught her. At this point, she knows very little about the creatures she hunts. Paleontology is a fairly new science this point in history; it’s still considered a part of geology. And Mary is poor and illiterate.

The woman and the girl find commonality in hunting the fossils. Elizabeth teaches Mary to read so that Mary can learn more from books. Most of the fossils found are ammonites and the like, but occasionally a dinosaur is unearthed- to the villagers, a monster, a crocodile. Through the years Mary finds several of these and her name becomes known in the geology world. She is not only a good hunter but has the knack of cleaning and preserving the specimens so they will last once exposed. But her abilities remove her from the marriage market of the small town. Marriage is to pass both Elizabeth and Mary by, but they form a friendship that will last many years and endure despite bad times and estrangements. This is the backbone of the story: the friendship between two women that does not constrain either of them but allows them to grow. These women are extraordinary for their time; during their lives, women were not even allowed onto the premises of the Geological Society much less allowed to be a member.

The novel avoids dates and seems to telescope time; years collapse into mere paragraphs. It sometimes moves in dreamlike fashion from one event to another. The two women’s voices alternate chapters in the first person, and I found the book compulsively readable. The women are both real, historic people, as are the men who impact their lives-Professor Buckland, Rev Conybear, James Birch, and Monsieur Cuvier, all fossil collectors. The people, the conditions endured while fossil hunting, and the era are brought vividly to life by Chevalier. ( )
  dark_phoenix54 | Aug 3, 2014 |
This was a fun book about two 19th century women who are fossil hunters. Elizabeth Philpot and Mary Anning are real women who lived in Lyme and explored the cliffs looking for fossils. They got little no recognition during their lifetimes, but history has at least marginally recognized their interesting finds (Mary Anning of some of the first recognized dinosaurs, and Elizabeth of a wonderful collection of ancient fish). Chevalier brings them to the forefront of this time period in fossil hunting with this book.

I felt the same way about the other book by Chevalier that I've read, The Girl with the Pearl Earring. I found them both interesting books that grab you from the start, but aren't particularly challenging or memorable. A fun, easy diversion nonetheless. ( )
  japaul22 | Jul 20, 2014 |
Based on real incidents, Chevalier weaves an absorbing tale about the discovery of ground-breaking fossils in Lyme Regis, England. Though marginalized in history books, Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot dug up these remarkable remnants of a era that was considered nonexistent at the time and shook up religious views at an unthinkable pace. These two women of two classes of society team together also in a way that helps break men's hold on science. Though I am only slightly interested in natural history, I was entranced by these retelling of another era. ( )
  lisa-ann | Jul 17, 2014 |
Remarkable Creatures
Remarkable Creatures was a most wonderful read. The author, Tracy Chevalier is most known for having written The Girl With the Pearl Earring. And I have a confession to make. I never did read that book. But, I did watch the movie. However, after having read Remarkable Creatures, it will go on my to read list.

Remarkable Creatures is about two women from opposite sides of society. Mary Anning, a poor girl who had been struck by lightening when she was little which left her with the ability to find "curies". Curies are little fossilized sea creatures that wash up on the shores of the town she lives in Lyme.

The other character, Elizabeth Philpot, though not rich, is definitely middle class. But, Elizabeth is plain, or at least she has a sharp jawline that is not considered soft enough to attract a suitor. When her brother marries, his new wife and he decide that the house is not big enough for his new family in the making, so he sends Elizabeth and her two sisters to live in Lyme, setting them into a small house with an annual allowance that grants them a modest means of living.

Elizabeth also collects Curies and meets Mary when she ventures into Mary's fathers cabinet shop to see about ordering a cabinet for her collection. They strike up a friendship initially based on the shared interest they have in the little fossils. Over time, it progresses to a very deep sisterly relationship.

Its a very interesting story of a relationship between two women in an age where most people socialized only within their own social class. It is also full of interesting knowledge and names of early collectors and scientists of fossils at a time when care must be taken not to allude to the possibility that these creatures separate from the proscribed God's design.

Tracy Chevalier has created rich and layered characters that draw you in and immerse you in their world. She does not just told a story, she has woven it and will trap you in the web of it. Her voice is unique and lyrical. And she will find a place on my authors to follow the works of list.

One thing I was pleased to note after finishing the book is that it is also based on real people with a fictional tale woven about the characters. Both Mary and Elizabeth did exist and the were both fossil collectors whose finds can be found in museums in Britain and abroad.

Read more here:
http://www.tchevalier.com/remarkablecreatures/story/index.html ( )
  sephibitchwitch | Jul 6, 2014 |
'Fossils...had become a kind of life, a whole stone world that I were a part of', 5 May 2014

This review is from: Remarkable Creatures (Paperback)
Fictionalized account of true-life fossil hunter Mary Anning, a working-class girl who discovered the first icthyosaur - and much more - on the beaches of Lyme Regis in the early 19th century.
In chapters narrated alternately by herself and by Elizabeth Philpot, a middle-aged spinster who shares her interest, we see how difficult it was for women to gain any credence in the world of science; for the new discoveries of prehistoric creatures to be accepted in an age of fundamental Christianity; and for the naive fossil hunter to avoid being swindled out of her discoveries by unscrupulous dealers. And the lonely life for women doomed forever to remain spinsters.
This was a fairly interesting read; light and unchallenging, it taught me a lot about Mary Anning's life, but failed to really engage me. ( )
  starbox | May 4, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 151 (next | show all)
Unless you have a deep and unabiding passion for fossils, you'll want to leave this specimen alone.
added by Shortride | editUSA Today, Donna Freydkin (Feb 2, 2010)
Giant marine reptiles are not the only remarkable creatures in this book. Chevalier turns a warming spotlight on a friendship cemented by shared obsession and mutual respect across profound class fissures; a friendship between two women who were indirectly responsible for several male careers and ultimately (partially, very indirectly) for Darwin's insights. She also gives it what Darwin himself considered mandatory in a novel, a happy ending - or happy enough.

» Add other authors (8 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Chevalier, Tracyprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Lyons, SusanNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Morahan, HattieNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Parry, CharlotteNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Book description
From the moment she is struck by lightening as a baby, it is clear that 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 that 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 a 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. [adapted from the jacket]
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When Mary Anning uncovers an unusual fossilized skeleton in the cliffs near her home on the English coast, she sets the religious fathers on edge, the townspeople to vicious gossip, and the scientific world alight. Luckily, Mary finds an unlikely champion in prickly Elizabeth Philpot, and in the struggle to be recognized in the wider world, Mary and Elizabeth discover that friendship is their greatest ally.… (more)

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