BOOK REVIEW: Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier

On a windswept English beach in the early 19th Century, two women make discoveries that change the world. And in so doing find friendship, pride and trouble.
From the moment she’s struck by lightning as a baby,  it is clear that Mary Anning is different. Her discovery of strange fossilised creatures in the cliffs of Lyme Regis sets the world alight. But Mary must face powerful prejudice from a male scientific establishment, not to mention vicious  gossip and the heartbreak of forbidden love. Then- in prickly clever Elizabeth Philpot, a fossil-obsessed middle-class spinster- she finds a champion, and a rival. Despite their differences in class and age, Mary and Elizabeth’s loyalty and passion for the truth must win out…
Publisher: Harper Collins
Pages: 343

My six-year-old daughter is obsessed with fossils so I was so excited to learn about Mary Anning recently. I was even more excited when a friend got in touch to tell me about Tracy Chevalier’s book which is focused on this marvellous woman. Chevalier often takes a historical truth and weaves her wonderful stories around them. In this case, Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot are real, as is the setting of Lyme Regis where they made several of their discoveries.
This book was fascinating and so many people have told me how much they loved it too. Mary Anning in particular, was so courageous for a woman with her lowly social position. Yet she was passionate and driven. Mary was confident in her knowledge and skills; her discoveries were so important to understanding evolution and the natural world.
Tracy Chevalier uses both Elizabeth and Mary to explore the limitations faced by women at the time. It took a long time for Mary and Elizabeth to gain any recognition for their tireless work and in part, Elizabeth had to fight for Mary which she was only able to do because she was middle-class rather than working-class.
I loved how Chevalier described Mary’s passion and wonderment at what she found, especially as I witness the same awe in my own child.
Remarkable Creatures is so well written, Chevalier’s descriptions are beautiful and I could easily picture the fossils that Mary discovers. The author always leaves you wanting more; she seems to have a knack of leaving the reader with a need for more knowledge. I will definitely be following up with more reading about Mary and Elizabeth, both remarkable creatures in their own right.

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