Friday, 31 January 2014

Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier
What We Thought:

Reviewer: JJ Marsh, author of The Beatrice Stubbs series

Chevalier has a real talent for painting women (no pun intended). This novel, with absorbing themes of science, the legacy of nature and the meaning of discovery is the story of two extraordinary women. It is based on real people and events. Working-class fossil hunter Mary Anning has an expertise and an eye to envy. Elizabeth Philpot, one of the middle-class spinster sisters, finds a like mind in Mary, as they seek to uncover the wealth of treasures buried in the rocks of Lyme Regis. Their talents attract attention, and not only of scientific interest.

I don’t know how Tracy Chevalier does it, but in a few pages, you are entirely transported to a wet, windswept beach in the early 1800s, held rapt by her gift for storytelling. The mood, the ambience of the age, the environment and the tension between the characters all spring to life with a few deft touches.

Along the way, the reader picks up a great deal about the gender imbalance of the period, the class system, the detail of fossil collecting and importance of reputation.

This book is one to savour and appreciate in small chunks, to absorb yourself in the world and remember that these creatures were not only remarkable, they were real.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Kate Summerscale, Sarah Waters, Peter Ho Davies

Avoid if you’re looking for: a bodice-ripping, rollicking saucy seaside romp

Ideal accompaniments: dry Sauvignon Blanc, a punnet of whelks and Benjamin Britten’s Cello Suite No. 1

Genre: Historical fiction

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