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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 an alternate Hardcover edition.
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.
When Mary uncovered the first complete skeleton of an ichthyosaurus she originally thought it was some kind of crocodile - but this error was understandable. At this time most women had few rights and certainly a working class woman would never be educated or given credit for the practical, working knowledge she had - knowledge that surpassed that of many men who claimed to be experts at the time. Elizabeth helped to educate Mary and taught her how to label her fossils using Linnaean classification.
Mary went on to discover another ancient marine reptile called a plesiosaur. All of this was before Darwin, so the idea of finding the remains of creatures that no longer existed in the world was a radical idea and not readily accepted by everyone.
While fighting to make the male dominated paleontologists of the day recognize Mary's contributions to the field, Elizabeth says, "So be it. A woman's life is always a compromise. (pg. 26)" And while acknowledging that this is a work of fiction, Chevalier writes: "Remarkable Creatures is a work of fiction, but many of the people existed, and events such as Colonel Birch's auction and the Geological Society meeting where Coneybeare talked about the plesiosaur did take place.( pg 309, postscript)"
Mary Anning was the inspiration for the tongue-twister "She sells seashells by the seashore."
In Remarkable Creatures both characters voice in alternating chapters a first person account of their friendship and how their lives intertwined. Chevalier gives Elizabeth and Mary unique voices so it is immediately apparent who is talking in each chapter. It is a beautifully written account of two remarkable women and made for a compelling novel.