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Curiosity Paperback – February 1, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


"Meticulous and deeply affecting. The traps of poverty and class, calcified notions of women’s place in science and society, fall away to reveal the hidden life below: the human mind and heart excavated with delicate and devastating skill."
— Marina Endicott, author of Good to a Fault

"Curiosity is a delight. Set with marvels and rueful comedy, it's a warmly intelligent feat of historical sympathy. Mary Anning of Lyme Regis, with her dead-reckoning gaze, moves through these pages like a muddy-booted angel."
— Greg Hollingshead, author of Bedlam

"Rich. . . . [Thomas] practically burrows into the characters. Hers is magnificent prose that appeals to all the senses without grandiloquence. Equally important, Thomas handles the doctrinal debate raised by the then-budding field of geology with [great] subtlety and nuance."
— The Toronto Star

"Right from its powerful opening, the novel buffets readers with the inescapable momentum of waves against the Dorset cliffs. . . . Curiosity is without question the best novel this reader has come across in the past year. . . . Lush. . . . Thomas draws [her] characters with such depth, power, and heart tha they remain with the reader long after the novel’s covers are closed."
— Quill & Quire [starred review]

"Thomas handles beautifully the class-afflicted nuances of a doomed love story."
— More magazine

"A brilliant, soulful, multi-layered novel. . . . We are drenched in all the sights, sounds and smells of the era [and] become privy to the ecstasy and the agony of the doomed love affair between the two main characters. . . . Lush prose, compelling narrative and vivid characters [make] this one of the best books of the spring publishing season."
Ottawa Citizen

"A precise reconstruction of the social and intellectual world of early 19th-century England. . . .[Thomas’s] research gives the characters depth [and] provides Mary with a delightfully distinctive voice. . . . A beautifully wrought . . . work of literary art."
Winnipeg Free Press

"Extraordinary. . . . A timeless story, and an unforgettable one."
Edmonton Journal

"Gripping. . . . Mary Anning as portrayed by Joan Thomas stands in her own right as a memorable figure, vulnerable and indomitable at the same time."
National Post

"[Curiosity] explores the exquisite fragility of a love story that turns upon the lovers’ unblinking curiosity before the metaphysical change their work uncovers. . . . A beautiful, erudite, and deeply pleasurable work."
The Walrus

From the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

Joan Thomas’s debut novel, Reading By Lightning (2008), won the Commonwealth Prize for Best First Book (Canada/Caribbean) and the Amazon.ca First Novel Award. Joan has worked as a teacher, group-home worker, editor, and as the Writing and Publishing consultant at the Manitoba Arts Council. She was a books columnist and longtime contributing reviewer for the Globe and Mail, and in 1996 won a National Magazine Award (Silver) for Creative Non-Fiction. Joan's second novel, Curiosity, was published in March of this year. Joan lives in Winnipeg.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Emblem Editions; Reprint edition (February 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0771084188
  • ISBN-13: 978-0771084188
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #324,079 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Mary Anning, the heroine of Joan Thomas' novel, CURIOSITY, was indeed a mystery and has, for a long time, been a mere footnote in the history of paleontology. Her recognition as "the greatest fossilist the world ever knew"*) came long after her death in 1847. Basing herself on whatever facts are known about Mary, her family and English society mores and rules in the first quarter of the nineteenth century, Canadian author Thomas has created a multi-layered, convincing and engaging portrait not only of her heroine but also of the social realities of her time.

Mary's obstacles to be acknowledged for her contributions and increasing competence and knowledge were two-fold: she was still a young girl, barely educated and self-taught, when she made the first sizeable prehistoric fossil find, the first specimen of an *Ichthyosaurus*, and she was "lowborn", living in the poorest part of Lyme Regis, on England's southern shore and a centre for "fossilizing" during her lifetime. To support her family, Mary had been selling ammonites and other small petrified treasures as "curiosities" to visitors and "gentlemen geologists". Among the latter was Henry De la Beche, who took a liking to her beyond the curios. Close in age, they met initially when there were still teenagers and over the years he followed her explorations up and down the cliffs of Lyme Regis with great enthusiasm and growing respect for her detailed knowledge of the taxonomy of her fossils. **)

Lyme Regis is defined by the cliffs, with the poor people living close to the seashore. Storms, high tides with resulting flooding of low-lying areas of town are frequent and the cliffs prone to landslides.
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Format: Paperback
The focus of Joan Thomas's historical fiction in Curiosity is the life of Mary Anning(1799-1847) who was a self-educated paleontologist & fossil collector from Lyme Regis, on the Jurassic Coast in the South West of Dorset in England.

With her brother, when she was 11 years old, Mary found the first complete Ichthyosaur. During her lifetime she collected, identified and sold many fossils, among them: skeletons of more ichthyosaurs, a long-necked Plesiosaurus (aka the `sea-dragon') and a Pterodactylus (aka `flying-dragon').

Anning's spectacular marine finds and her contribution to scientific thought challenged her contemporaries' biblical interpretations of the story of creation. Her specimens were important early finds in the fields of what would later become known as paleontology, geology and evolutionary biology.

Thomas' book was rumoured to be more fully realized than Tracy Chevalier's Remarkable Creatures, another work of historical fiction that imagines what Anning's life might have been like. Both books provide fascinating looks into a woman, time, and place that have each played an incredibly important role in scientific thought. Curiosity definitely satisfies in the way it explores the relationship between scientists and theories of the time.

Joan Thomas's Mary Anning is quite a different person than Tracy Chevalier's in Remarkable Creatures. Not much is truly known for certain of Mary Anning's romantic relationships (if any). Each author puts forward a different male love interest for Anning, readers will have to determine for themselves if either is believable or likely!

What both authors are certain about is that Anning undoubtedly faced many challenges in her childhood and early twenties because of her family's poverty.
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I was first introduced to Mary Anning years ago in a child's book a friend gave me for my daughters to read. I was thrilled to see it, since I wanted to be a paleontologist when I was in 6th grade, but forgot about Mary until Tracy Chevalier released her wonderful novel, Remarkable Creatures a few years ago. I loved that book, which led me to The Fossil Hunter by Shelly Emling, a biography of Mary, and then to this book, which is another fictionalized account of Mary's life, as well as the early life of Henry de la Beche, a local geologist and paleontologist who knew Mary for most of her life. He was one of the people who helped Mary and her family financially, as they were quite impoverished for the duration of Mary's life, despite her major paleontological discoveries.

While I enjoyed Chevalier's study of the friendship of Anning and Elizabeth Philpot, her maiden neighbor, this book takes a different approach to many of Anning's relationships that are publicly known. Anyone who has read about Anning knows that credit for her discoveries, including long hours searching on the somewhat dangerous beaches of Lyme Regis in inclement weather, were taken by the very people who claimed to want to help her. Even when William Buckland, a family friend and geologist/paleontologist, arranged for an auction of his collection of Mary's finds to directly benefit the family, Thomas adds in a twist that screams out the fact that Mary was constantly being used by those around her.

Of course, the beliefs of the time, which often seem quaint and antiquated to so many of us now, are also a large part of the social commentary of this novel. Darwin had yet to make his trip on the Beagle, and a majority of people still believed fervently that the world was created on October 23, 4004 BC.
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