Remarkable Creatures

Remarkable Creatures

by Tracy Chevalier

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Overview

A voyage of discovery, two remarkable women, and an extraordinary time and place enrich this New York Times bestselling novel by Tracy Chevalier, author of At the Edge of the Orchard and Girl With a Pearl Earring.

On the windswept, fossil-strewn beaches of the English coast, poor and uneducated Mary Anning learns that she has a unique gift: "the eye" to spot fossils no one else can see. When she uncovers an unusual fossilized skeleton in the cliffs near her home, she sets the religious community on edge, the townspeople to gossip, and the scientific world alight. After enduring bitter cold, thunderstorms, and landslips, her challenges only grow when she falls in love with an impossible man.

Mary soon finds an unlikely champion in prickly Elizabeth Philpot, a middle-class spinster who shares her passion for scouring the beaches. Their relationship strikes a delicate balance between fierce loyalty, mutual appreciation, and barely suppressed envy, but ultimately turns out to be their greatest asset.

Remarkable Creatures is a stunning historical novel that follows the story of two extraordinary 19th century fossil hunters who changed the scientific world forever.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781101152454
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/05/2010
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 11,224
File size: 2 MB
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

"I was born and grew up in Washington, DC. After getting a BA in English from Oberlin College (Ohio), I moved to London, England in 1984. I intended to stay 6 months; I’m still here.

"As a kid I’d often said I wanted to be a writer because I loved books and wanted to be associated with them. I wrote the odd story in high school, but it was only in my twenties that I started writing ‘real’ stories, at night and on weekends. Sometimes I wrote a story in a couple evenings; other times it took me a whole year to complete one.

"Once I took a night class in creative writing, and a story I’d written for it was published in a London-based magazine called Fiction. I was thrilled, even though the magazine folded 4 months later.

I worked as a reference book editor for several years until 1993 when I left my job and did a year-long MA in creative writing at the University of East Anglia in Norwich (England). My tutors were the English novelists Malcolm Bradbury and Rose Tremain. For the first time in my life I was expected to write every day, and I found I liked it. I also finally had an idea I considered ‘big’ enough to fill a novel. I began The Virgin Blue during that year, and continued it once the course was over, juggling writing with freelance editing.

"An agent is essential to getting published. I found my agent Jonny Geller through dumb luck and good timing. A friend from the MA course had just signed on with him and I sent my manuscript of The Virgin Blue mentioning my friend’s name. Jonny was just starting as an agent and needed me as much as I needed him. Since then he’s become a highly respected agent in the UK and I’ve gone along for the ride."

Hometown:

London, England

Date of Birth:

October 19, 1962

Place of Birth:

Washington, D.C.

Education:

B.A. in English, Oberlin College, 1984; M.A. in creative writing, University of East Anglia, 1994

Reading Group Guide

INTRODUCTION

A voyage of discoveries, a meeting of two remarkable women, and extraordinary time and place enrich bestselling author Tracy Chevalier's enthralling new novel

From the moment she's struck by lightening as a baby, it is clear that Mary Anning is marked for greatness. On the windswept, fossil-strewn beaches of the English coast, she learns that she has "the eye"-and finds what no one else can see. When Mary uncovers an unusual fossilized skeleton in the cliffs near her home, she sets the religious fathers on edge, the townspeople to vicious gossip, and the scientific world alight. In an arena dominated by men, however, Mary is barred from the academic community; as a young woman with unusual interests she is suspected of sinful behavior. Nature is a threat, throwing bitter, cold storms and landslips at her. And when she falls in love, it is with an impossible man.

Luckily, Mary finds an unlikely champion in prickly Elizabeth Philpot, a recent exile from London, who also loves scouring the beaches. Their relationship strikes a delicate balance between fierce loyalty, mutual appreciation, and barely suppressed envy. Ultimately, in the struggle to be recognized in the wider world, Mary and Elizabeth discover that friendship is their greatest ally.

Remarkable Creatures is a stunning novel of how one woman's gift transcends class and social prejudice to lead to some of the most important discoveries of the nineteenth century. Above all, is it a revealing portrait of the intricate and resilient nature of female friendship.


ABOUT TRACY CHEVALIER

"I was born and grew up in Washington, DC. After getting a BA in English from Oberlin College (Ohio), I moved to London, England in 1984. I intended to stay 6 months; I’m still here.

"As a kid I’d often said I wanted to be a writer because I loved books and wanted to be associated with them. I wrote the odd story in high school, but it was only in my twenties that I started writing ‘real’ stories, at night and on weekends. Sometimes I wrote a story in a couple evenings; other times it took me a whole year to complete one.

"Once I took a night class in creative writing, and a story I’d written for it was published in a London-based magazine called Fiction. I was thrilled, even though the magazine folded 4 months later.

I worked as a reference book editor for several years until 1993 when I left my job and did a year-long MA in creative writing at the University of East Anglia in Norwich (England). My tutors were the English novelists Malcolm Bradbury and Rose Tremain. For the first time in my life I was expected to write every day, and I found I liked it. I also finally had an idea I considered ‘big’ enough to fill a novel. I began The Virgin Blue during that year, and continued it once the course was over, juggling writing with freelance editing.

"An agent is essential to getting published. I found my agent Jonny Geller through dumb luck and good timing. A friend from the MA course had just signed on with him and I sent my manuscript of The Virgin Blue mentioning my friend’s name. Jonny was just starting as an agent and needed me as much as I needed him. Since then he’s become a highly respected agent in the UK and I’ve gone along for the ride."


DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
  • The first sentence of the novel is, “Lightning has struck me all my life.” What did you expect after reading that? What does Mary mean?
  • What attracts Mary to fossil hunting? How is it different from Elizabeth’s motivation?
  • How would you characterize the relationship between Mary and Elizabeth—mother/daughter, sisters, or something else?
  • On page 39 Elizabeth says, “After little more than a year in Lyme I’d come to appreciate the freedom a spinster with no male relatives about could have there.” Why is that? What did “freedom” mean for a woman of the time? Who had more freedom—Elizabeth or Mary?
  • What role does religion play in Elizabeth’s life? In Mary’s?
  • How does the notion of “God’s intention” affect their fossil-hunting?
  • Why do you think that in the novel, the women are fossil hunters, while the men are fossil collectors? What point is Chevalier trying to make?
  • At different points in the novel, both Mary and Elizabeth have reason to think that they, themselves, might become fossils. What did each woman mean by that?
  • How does Colonel Birch come between the two women? What are his motives? In the end, do you consider him a decent man?
  • After Birch’s auction, on page 203, Elizabeth cries, “Not for Mary, but for myself.” Why?
  • Which woman needs the other more? Why?
  • Why does Elizabeth go to London? What does she hope to achieve?
  • Regarding her time on the Unity, Elizabeth says, “I did not expect it, but I had never been so happy.” (page 250) Why does she feel that way?
  • After Mary agrees to sell a specimen to Cuvier, Mam accuses her of becoming a collector, no longer a hunter. What does she mean by that? Is she right?
  • Upon Elizabeth’s return from London, Mary says she “was like a fossil that’s been cleaned and set so everyone can see what it is.” (page 298) What happened to change her?
  • What was your response to the ending?
  • Have you read any of Tracy Chevalier’s other novels? What similarities and differences do you see?
  • Interviews

    A Message from the Author
    One rainy day during school vacation, I took my son to a small dinosaur museum in southern England. He was in the dinosaur stage of his obsessions, and needed entertaining. I was not looking for an idea for a novel there. But that is what I came out with.

    In one corner of the museum there was a small display about a woman named Mary Anning. In 1811 she and her brother found a complete specimen of an ichthyosaur, an ancient marine reptile which no one knew had even existed. (They thought it was a crocodile.) The discovery of such a creature challenged commonly held beliefs about the creation of the world. At that time there was no concept of extinction -- it would have been considered blasphemous to suggest that God might have created animals that He then allowed to die out as if they were mistakes.

    Mary had no idea of the controversy her "crocodile" would set off. She was simply finding and selling fossils to make a living. That was what drew me to her story: she was a working-class woman holding her own among middle-class male scientists. There was something special about her -- underlined by the fact that she survived being struck by lightning as a baby. Indeed, some suggested that made her more intelligent.

    I had a lot of fun researching Remarkable Creatures, in particular in getting to know Lyme Regis, a small town on the south coast where Mary lived. An isolated fishing village which became a tourist destination by the early 19th century, Lyme Regis still attracts eccentric, independent sorts. Most readers know it as the setting of John Fowles' The French Lieutenant's Woman. Visitors like to walk to the end of the town's curved jetty, called the Cobb, and do their best Meryl Streep impersonation from the movie, tossing their hair and looking mournfully out to sea as the waves crash around them.

    There's another side to Lyme Regis, though, which is equally dramatic: its beaches and cliffs stuffed with 200 million-year-old fossils. I spent a lot of time on those beaches, following in Mary's footsteps and keeping one eye on the tide and falling rocks as I searched for ammonites, belemnites and the odd dinosaur bone. I even managed to find the shoulder bone and vertebra of a plesiosaur, one of the other creatures Mary discovered. Those moments of discovery were like bolts of lightning for me, and I felt for a second that I was experiencing my character's life. --Tracy Chevalier

    Customer Reviews

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    Remarkable Creatures 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 250 reviews.
    ChelseaW More than 1 year ago
    Mary Anning has been a unique girl ever since she survived being struck by lightning as a baby. She has a special knack for finding rare fossils of unknown creatures on the beaches near her home. Elizabeth Philpot is a young spinster when she meets Mary, instantly taking an interest in fossils herself. From this moment, we watch the friendship grow between these two different women as they navigate family, love, society, and the male dominated world of Fossils. Chevalier has a uncommon ability to make people from a very specific time and place come alive once more. I had to pause a few times to remind myself that these characters lived long ago, as they felt so real and tangible to me. She has a writing style full of prose so beautiful and soft, it will make the vision at the edges of your sight blur until the only thing in focus is the page in front of you. Unusual side effect: reading this book made me want to go scour the beaches for my own fossil finds!
    AvidReaderREE More than 1 year ago
    My mother and I have read all of Tracy Chevalier's books and the last few we have been rather disappointed, but this one makes up for it! It's quite gripping and compelling, on par with Girl with a Pearl Earring and The Lady and the Unicorn. Absolutely wonderful! Such a good book to just sit down and read the whole thing!
    alaskanvalkyrie More than 1 year ago
    Tracy Chevalier does an outstanding job of showing you raw, realistic history while compelling you to turn the page. An unlikely friendship in an age where women do not have equality, this is a superb example of the rise of great women. I love every book of Ms. Chevalier's because they are all different in genre and are never repititious. Can't wait for the next book!
    GabrielRE More than 1 year ago
    Tracy Chevalier once again managed a little miracle by bringing back to life Mary Anning and Ms. Elizabeth Philpot who have long been dust themselves back on the beaches of Lyme's coastal cliffs. She once again made people from a very specific time and place come alive once more. I felt I was right there, walking along the beach of Lyme Regis with them in search of fossils, ammonites and crocs! Her writing style of prose so beautiful and soft, just flows gently and slowly sips in you until all you can think of, even when you put the book down, is fossil hunting on the beaches of Lyme. Remarkable Creatures is indeed about these two remarkable ladies, who little did they know at the time, contributed with their simple lives, their curiosity, perseverance, endurance and inner strength to how the scientific world begun "considering" the idea of extinction, regardless of how shocking this idea was in the early 19th century...
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    It is a shame to see such a beautifully written novel fall short to entertain. There was no plot, no height to the story, and no entertainment factor. It was extremely boring. I did finish it, however, by the time I reached the end I wish I wouldn't have. I was upset that I devoted so much time to read it. There were several times the story would reach the point of wondering what's going to happen next and than nothing did. For instance, when bones of a woman were discovered on the the shore, there was no great mystery behind it. It is basically a story about the relationship of two woman who have fossil hunting in common. It is one long boring story about their lives intertwined. It was well written, but that is all I can say good about it.
    BeenToBaliToo More than 1 year ago
    I am a huge Chevalier fan, and this book is her best yet. She has such a talent for picking topics that would seem mundane, yet she makes them fascinating and intricate with feminist themes.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Why is the ebook more $$ than the paper copy?
    Northwest_Judy More than 1 year ago
    If you are a Jane Austen fan, this book would make a great companion piece. Where those books are lovely in their wit and tidy endings, Chevalier shines in portraying a different type of woman living in that same time, whose stories do not always go the way we wish for them. I was thrown off by the lightning element at the start of the book, thinking that this story would veer off into magical realism (it didn't). This isn't the type of book that will keep you up at night for 'just one more chapter' but if you are a fan of historical fiction you'll be happy with the details on location, time, gender, and class.
    harstan More than 1 year ago
    Born in 1799 in Lyme Regis, England, her father gave his daughter quite an education to search for the "curies" of life that can be found by the beach so they can sell their catch to wealthy tourists. This was Mary Anning's training at paleontology fossil hunting. She became one of the best and hr research led to her belief that the age of the earth was much older than that of the Old Testament as proof of an age with gigantic creatures before humanity (and Darwin) existed. Elizabeth Philpot and her family come to coastal England for their brother's marriage. She meets Mary and enjoys the fossil hunter's tales. They become friends and partners searching for the bones of pre mankind. When Mary discovers fully intact dinosaur remains, Elizabeth speaks for both of them in front of the science community that detests females in their business and several try to rip off the find as theirs. However their BFF is tested when Colonel Thomas Birch arrives in Lyme Regis to ask Mary to help him on his fossil hunt. Based on real people who made incredible contributions to paleontology before Darwin, Remarkable Creatures is an entertaining historical fiction that showcases the strength of conviction a woman had to have to do anything outside the accepted limited roles. We come more than just a long way, try light years, from the Regency-Victorian eras. Fans will enjoy Tracy Chevalier's spotlight on two women who made a difference as their work is still on display in Oxford. Harriet Klausner
    bibliolover More than 1 year ago
    Tracy Chevalier is one of my favorite authors and she completely lives up to expectations with this novel. I had no knowledge of this story before reading it and I was hooked from the first page. Strong female characters who actually existed and left a legacy behind. Fabulous.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Chevalier develops her characters thoroughly, reflecting the class distinctions of the times with two women's enduring friendship and devotion despite such barriers.
    karen978 More than 1 year ago
    Loved it. Chevalier's characters are ALWAYS interesting and alive. I couldn't put it down.
    bachaney on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    Tracy Chevalier's "Remarkable Creatures" focuses on two historical women--Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot, and tries to flesh out the historical accounts of the lives of these women that exists in the scientific record. The book begins when Philpot has just moved to the town of Lyme Regis, and first meets Anning. Philpot, in her late 20s, is already a spinster, and moving to Lyme from London gives her the freedom to pursue her unladylike passion for fossils. Anning has a natural gift for fossil hunting, and Philpot is quickly drawn to her. Over the next two decades these women will develop a close bond and make many fossil discoveries together. But will a force bigger than themselves--love or fame--eventually draw them apart? In "Remarkable Creatures" Chevalier has done a good job of taking real historical figures and crafting an interesting story around them. I had never heard of either Anning or Philpot, but I actually had seen some of the collections of fossils they contributed to at the British Museum. The novel quickly introduces you to these two women and their world, and does a good job of helping you to see the world through their eyes. I thought the most interesting dynamic of the story was how the men treated Philpot and Anning, especially how they were considered just "hunters" not real scientists because they were women. Some of the novel, particularly the love stories and jealousy did seem a bit forced, but not so much so that they ruined the rest of the story. I would recommend this book to readers interested in women's lives during the early 19th century and to general fans of historical fiction. It was well done and an interesting quick read.
    LynnB on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    I just loved this story of two remarkable creatures (women) and the remarkable creatures (fossils) they share an interest in.This novel is based on two real women. Mary Anning is a working class young woman, who at the age of 11 discovered the world's first complete ichthyosaur. She went on to make many more contributions to science as she found fossils in Lyme Regis, England. The story centres on her friendship with Elizabeth Philpot, a spinster 20 years older than Mary, who has moved from London society to the more affordable Lyme Regis.From this base of fact, Tracy Chevalier has done what she has demonstrated that she does best -- she lets her imagination fill in the gaps with an interesting story. In this case, it is a story of friendship, the role of women in the early 1800s, in particular, their struggles for recognition in the scientific community.This story also deals with the question of science vs. religion, which remains pertinent today. But, this story takes place in an era where religion had, in general, a stronger influence than it does in Western society today. And, in a time when no one knew what dinosaurs were; in fact, the specimen Mary finds are called "crocodiles" or "turtles". Animals that weren't on Noah's ark couldn't possibly exist since the concept of extinction was not accepted.Ms. Chevalier writes well. While the depth of her research is obvious, it is never overpowering. She is writing a novel, enhanced by history and by scientific discoveries, but a novel first and foremost. Great stuff.
    Nickelini on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    Tracy Chevalier¿s Remarkable Creatures is a highly enjoyable read. Set against the scientific world of Regency England before Darwin, it is the story of the friendship between two unlikely companions and fossil hunters. A spinster who is dependent on her brother for support, Elizabeth Philpot reminds me of a character from a Jane Austen novel. Working class Mary Anning is more like someone out of Dickens. Together they explore the world of 19th century paleontology, support each other, quarrel, and take on the patriarchal scientific community (in their own humble way). As with the other two Chevalier novels I¿ve read, there are no glaring anachronisms in her historical fiction. I also love how she focuses on people from history who are barely known, instead of royalty; I also appreciate her focus on material culture over politics and battles. I have little interest in fossils, but in Remarkable Creatures, I felt like I was right there with Mary and Elizabeth exploring the wind-swept beaches of Lyme Regis.What would have made this book great is if there were illustrations of the fossils. I read Chevalier¿s Girl with the Pearl Earring with my Vermeer book at my side, so I was thrilled that her Lady and the Unicorn was illustrated. Chevalier and her publisher should take a close look at Barbara Hodgson¿s books (eg: Hippolyte¿s Island) and learn from her example.
    fig2 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    Set on the Dorset Coast, Remarkable Creatures tells the story of prickly spinster Elizabeth Philpot and young, brash Mary Anning, both avid fossil collectors. When Mary discovers two never before seen species, ripples of fear, confusion and disbelief rock not only the scientific community, but the religious community as well. This is a superb story about two amazing women and the changes the brought to the world.
    SamSattler on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    Tracy Chevalier¿s latest novel, "Remarkable Creatures," based on the true story of fossil-finders Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot, is a piece of feminist historical fiction that works. Set in the early years of the 19th century, the book is a reminder of how completely women were excluded from the scientific community of the time ¿ regardless of what they might achieve they were unlikely to receive much official credit for their work. It was a time, too, when people still believed that God had created the earth, and human beings, a mere five or six thousand years earlier and any evidence to the contrary was seen as something blasphemous.Mary Anning¿s family was poor and she helped support it by selling ¿curies¿ to the tourists who flocked to Lyme Regis every summer. As a child, she learned that she had an eye for spotting the curiosities that littered the beaches near her father¿s workshop, and her father encouraged her to spend countless hours there gathering items that could be turned into the cash his family so desperately needed. As a girl, Mary was not quite sure what she was gathering but her unusual talent for spotting the ¿curies,¿ combined with her skill in cleaning them up for sale to collectors, brought in enough money to make a real difference for her family.Elizabeth Philpot moved to Lyme Regis from London with two of her sisters after her brother sold the family home to begin a new life there with his young bride. Elizabeth did not have Mary¿s eye for finding them, but she shared her passion for beach fossils and the two, despite their age and class differences, became unlikely friends. They would walk the beaches of Lyme Regis for several years before Mary discovered the fossils that would finally make her somewhat famous within the closed European scientific circle of her day.Life began to change for Mary after she discovered her first complete ¿crocodile¿ fossil. The fossil was so unusual that it attracted the attention of prominent geologists and, when it was suspected that Mary had actually found the remains of a previously unknown species of animal, fossil hunters, wealthy collectors, and scientists began to seek Mary¿s help in finding similar fossils of their own to study. Mary never lost her uncanny ability to spot fossils where others walked past them unaware, and she spent the rest of her life adding to science¿s understanding of the earth¿s past. Some of her discoveries are, in fact, still displayed in London and Paris museums."Remarkable Creatures," told in chapters alternating the voices of Mary and Elizabeth, focuses on the unusual friendship shared by the two women. As Mary matured, and their age difference became less obvious, their friendship would be tested by jealousy, misunderstanding, and the reluctance of both women to make the simple apology that would have immediately cleared the air between them. Ultimately, though severely threatened, their friendship would survive to the benefit of both women.This is the best kind of historical fiction, a book in which the reader can lose himself in an interesting (and nicely recreated) period and, at the same time, learn about two women who left their mark on science when it was near impossible for women to do so. Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot, in their own way, were as remarkable as the creatures Mary discovered on the isolated English beaches she knew so well.
    kmaziarz on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    In the England of the early 1800s, Elizabeth Philpot and her sisters are that greatest of burdens to a young, recently married brother¿unmarriagable. The three are quietly resettled, moved from the London limelight to the out-of-the-way coastal town of Lyme Regis. There, the three quietly settle into the lives of eccentric spinsters. Elizabeth, spying the huge beds of ammonite fossils along Lyme Regis¿s shoreline, decides to devote herself to the unladylike pursuit of fossil-hunting. It is in this way that she encounters Mary Anning, an extremely bright, though uneducated, young woman who makes a living for her family selling fossils which she calls ¿curies,¿ short for ¿curiosities.¿ Elizabeth takes the young woman under her wing, teaching her the Latinate names of the fossils and instructing her on proper scientific documentation of her finds. When Mary discovers a series of huge skeletons unlike any creatures known on earth at the time¿both icthyosaurs and plesiosaurs¿her existence and the existence of the rich fossil beds at Lyme Regis is brought to the attention of the greater scientific community. However, achieving any sort of recognition in the intensely male-dominated profession is a life-long struggle for both women.Based on a true story¿both Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot were real women whose fossils can be seen in British museams today¿¿Remarkable Creatures¿ shines a light on the lives of strong, intelligent women who are usually excluded from the history of paleontology. Fascinating and compelling.
    bugs5 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    A wonderful book about female friendship, class, fossils, British life in the 1800's, love
    kmoellering on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    This is one of my favorite books I read this year. Mary Anning was a real woman and an amazing scientist, considering that she came from a very poor family in early 19th century Britain. She searched for fossils with her brother and father and later taught herself geology and other fields of science. This novelization of her life examines her role in scientific inquiry in comparison with a fictional character, Elizabeth Phillpott, who has many opportunities Mary does not - money, education, and social standing. Each wants what the other has, but they form an amazing friendship. If you are interested in women in science, female friendships, or 19th century England you will thoroughly enjoy this book.
    Myckyee on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    Based on the true history of Mary Anning, a 19th century woman who became renowned as a 'fossilist', Remarkable Creatures recounts the story behind the discovery of ancient creatures whose fossils washed up on the shores of Lyme Regis, a village in England and the friendship which develops between two fossil hunters, Mary and Elizabeth Philpot.I enjoyed this book very much. The friendship between the two women showed how class structure and status, as well as gender, affected what a woman could and could not do in polite society during the 1800's. I could feel the frustration, along with the characters, of not being taken seriously by the established norms of the day. I also enjoyed following Mary as she made amazing discoveries along the beaches of Lyme Regis. Having majored in geology at university, I especially enjoyed recognizing the familiar names of some of the creatures Mary Anning picked up and was taken aback when a very familiar name from the world of geology popped up on the page.
    Furball on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    A lovely story about two women bonding over a love of fossils. When I received the book I was a little worried it would be dull, but I think I was well proven wrong. Tracy Chevalier's books are more about the characters and their experiences, and this story made me feel empowered as a woman and grateful to the strong women of the past. The book is laid out in long chapters that switch between the voices of Elizabeth Philpot and Mary Anning. Each character is written in a distinct voice so it's hard to mistake who's thoughts you're in. I can't say I felt more connected to one over the other, but I enjoyed their friendship so much because it felt entirely real.
    fyrefly98 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    Summary: Remarkable Creatures tells the story of two women living in Lyme Regis, along the southern coast of England, in the early 1800s. Elizabeth Philpot is the eldest of three unmarried sisters, forced to move from London to Lyme by their reduced circumstances. Mary Anning was born in Lyme, the daughter of a carpenter, and only eleven years old at the start of the story. Both Mary and Elizabeth show an affinity for fossils - or curies, as Mary calls them - which are abundant in the seaside cliffs of Lyme. Elizabeth collects them primarily as a hobby, because she finds them - and what they suggest about the nature of creation and life on Earth - fascinating, but Mary is not driven by such high-minded concerns. She collects them to sell, to make money to pay off her father's debts, and luckily she has a good eye for the traces of fossils embedded in the cliffs. But for all her hard work, the men of science that buy her finds (including the first complete specimens of ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs) are not the sort that will recognize how beholden they are to the rough, unlettered daughter of a tradesman.Review: I think I would be hard-pressed to find another piece of historical fiction that was so clearly designed to appeal to me. I love fossils, love fossil collecting, love the history of science, love books set in the early 1800s, and oh yes, the fossils! I have several ammonites and a belemnite sitting on one of my bookcases, and have gone fossil-hunting myself more than once. So as soon as I found out that this book was about fossils, I knew I wanted to read it, and once I realized that it was based on real people, I was totally sold. (And also mentally planning a trip to Lyme. I've never hunted Jurassic fossils before!) This book is jam-packed with history-of-science goodies; not just Mary Anning but also Henry de la Beche, William Buckland, and Georges Cuvier also make appearances. More to the point, the book depicts an interesting point of time, when the first fossils of creatures that no longer existed were being found, and the things like extinction and the age of the earth first begin to be seriously scientifically considered. I think Chevalier did a very nice job in bringing the debate - and some of the solutions of the time - to life without making the "science vs. religion" argument the central focus of the book.But this book isn't just about paleontology, or even just about science. It's primarily about the evolving friendship between Mary and Elizabeth - two women of different ages, from such different walks of life - and how that friendship is shaped by the expected place of women in Regency society. I thought both Chevalier and the audiobook producers did a great job with this; Mary and Elizabeth alternate POV chapters, and both of them have clear, strong, believable voices, which were beautifully read by the narrators. I thought it was particularly impressive that the narrator reading Mary's chapters could sound like Elizabeth whenever she needed to read a line of dialogue (and vice-versa), given how distinct the two characters' voices were.The book was a little slow at times, and it's definitely character- rather than plot-driven. But I enjoyed the characters and their setting so much that I found that I didn't really mind that sometimes not all that much was happening. 4 out of 5 stars.Recommendation: Highly recommended for anyone interested in the history of science, but also more broadly for historical fiction fans who enjoy stories about real, non-royal, historical people.
    njmom3 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    This book is a fictionalized account based in historical facts about the discovery of Jurassic age fossils. It presents a remarkable story about two women responsible for changing the course of scientific thinking about the history of the earth. It shows an interesting picture of the society at that time dealing with how the class structure and how being a female kept the women out of where their discoveries led. The book also has an underlying discussion of evolution v. theology and how the two can be reconciled. The characters and setting are fascinating and draw you into the story. Aside from the history, the story has a haunting quality about it that makes for good reading.
    katylit on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    I was going to start this review by saying that the only problem with this book is that it's too short. But even that isn't a problem, it's just that I was sorry it was over.Remarkable Creatures is the story of two women, Elizabeth Philpot and Mary Anning, in early 19th century England, both of whom have a passion for fossils. I enjoyed the weaving of fact and fiction, learning more, as always, with the historical details. It was so interesting to read about the debate that arose from fossils, things we take so much for granted now. While there was lots about digging in the ground in the book, there was also a wonderful story of a remarkable friendship between two diverse women, from different classes in society, years apart in age, and yet bound together in their common interest.It is a wonderful book.