Thursday, June 2, 2011

Remarkable Creatures

Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier is the story of Mary Anning, one of the worlds first archaeologists; and her companion Elizabeth Philpot. This story follows the journey of archaeology in the early 1800's from a non existent science to a serious matter among scholars. As it turns out, much of what early archaeologists knew was learned from studying the specimens that Mary Anning found in and around her home town of Lyme Regis in England.

Tracy Chevalier, whose work I have read before, always does an excellent job bringing her stories to life with incredible historical research. The worlds she creates are so realistic, it is very easy to picture exactly what the settings she describes look like. In fact, I found a picture of a beach near Lyme, where the story takes place, and I was amazed that it was so close to what I had imagined.

I liked the fact that this novel was narrated by both Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot. It gave a very good range of viewpoint. When the novel begins, Anning is a young girl and Philpot is a goin-on-middle aged spinster, just moved to Lyme from London with her two spinster sisters. The Anning family is quite poor, while the Philpots enjoy more luxury. The difference between the two women is great for exhibiting the class diversity that existed between classes during the time period.

Unfortunately (for me, anyway) there is not a lot of focus on costume. Nonetheless, Chevalier's historical research does spread to clothing, and we get a good enough description of what the characters are wearing that you can picture them. As far as I can tell, the clothing description is historically accurate as well.

I would recommend reading this book if you like historical fiction and/or archaeology. While there is a small amount of time spent on things such as interpersonal relationships, most of the book focuses on archaeological finds, and the problems they created in early 19th century England. If you're not interested in fossil finding or history, you may be bored by this novel.

I really enjoyed reading Remarkable Creatures but I don't think it's for everyone.

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