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Remarkable Creatures Hardcover – January 5, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
Chevalier's newest is a flat historical whose familiar themes of gender inequality, class warfare and social power often overwhelm the story. Tart-tongued spinster Elizabeth Philpot meets young Mary Anning after moving from London to the coastal town of Lyme Regis. The two quickly form an unlikely friendship based on their mutual interest in finding fossils, which provides the central narrative as working-class Mary emerges from childhood to become a famous fossil hunter, with her friend and protector Elizabeth to defend her against the men who try to take credit for Mary's finds. Their friendship, however, is tested when Colonel Birch comes to Lyme to ask for Mary's help in hunting fossils and the two spinsters compete for his attention. While Chevalier's exploration of the plight of Victorian-era women is admirable, Elizabeth's fixation on her status as an unmarried woman living in a gossipy small town becomes monotonous, and Chevalier slows the story by dryly explaining the relative importance of different fossils. Chevalier's attempt to imagine the lives of these real historical figures makes them seem less remarkable than they are. (Jan.)
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Praise for Remarkable Creatures`It is a stunning story, compassionately reimagined'Guardian`Chevalier recently stated that making fossils sexy was one of her chief aims in writing Remarkable Creatures. With this very entertaining book, she has certainly succeeded'Telegraph`Very entertaining and informative'The Times`The backdrop of shifting evolutionary ideas finds a rueful echo in Chevalier's tender portrayal of two extraordinary women who refuse to be constrained by society'Sunday Telegraph`An enthralling novel of female friendship and fossil hunting.'Woman and Home`An extraordinary tale about two 19th century women who attempt to alter ideas about creationism with their discoveries of dinosaur fossils'Daily Mirror`Involving themes of friendship and the hidden world of women as much as the excitement of discovering the fossils' significance, Remarkable Creatures is itself a find'Metro`Chevalier shows her skill for working history's lost individuals into far-reaching fiction'Good Housekeeping --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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Top customer reviews
The two womens' passion and pursuit of fossils ties them together and nearly tears them apart as well. Chevalier weaves a subtle, but moving, tale of social class, societal expectation, innuendo, and love in this novel. The two women are at times inspired and held back by the men they encounter in life. This novel demonstrates the resilience of these pioneering women despite society's desire to marginalize them by virtue of their sex through social custom and gossip.
Overall, I believe Chevalier recaptured some of the magic of this subtle tension that the reader witnessed in Girl With A Pearl Earring. This reviewer looks forward to Ms. Chevalier's next literary offering.
I rated this as 4 rather than 5 due to my own interests perhaps--I'm not a fossil person and found it interesting how intrigued the people of that day seemed to be by the subject matter.
I deliberately leave out plot details from my reviews because I know they are already posted and need not be recited again. What fascinates me most about this book is that it takes place in the early 19th Century, when women were so restricted in society, and these women manage to slip under the wall of repression. I am amazed also, that their observations, which still stand, are all pre- Darwin. They stumble upon scientific method, observe extinct species, and want to find out why they are extinct, and why a crocodile fossil specimen can wind up in a place like Devon or Lyme. I felt as if, knowing there were others with these interests, Darwin is almost the apex of change in our own species--how we think, learn, question. All the events in the book take place before The Origin of the Species was published. Yet, the questions Darwin raises had been forming its own volcano in the evolution of the human mind.
These topics Chevalier brings to life with her typical simple, yet elegant and melodic prose. Chevalier was born in Washington, D.C., although she lives with her husband and children in English. I am sorry the book cannot be short-listed for the Man-Booker Prize. While the work is a novel, the book is based on a true story that is as much part of English history of science as Charles Darwin himself.