08 December 2009

Remarkable Creatures

By Tracy Chevalier
Published by Penguin Group
First printing, January 2010

I'm quite often amazed by Tracy Chevalier. It's a talent (and, I'm sure, an awful lot of hard work) to write in as much detail as she does. But it's the details that make her books so glorious to read.

I have to admit, I wasn't out of my mind with glee when I learned Chevalier's new book was about Mary Anning (1799-1847), the British fossil hunter and paleontologist. I was interested, but prepared for boredom. But boredom never came.

Mary Anning and her older friend and fellow fossil hunter, Elizabeth Philpot, were treated with disdain throughout most of their lives. Mary for being poor; Elizabeth for being a spinster; and both for being women daring to seek out the truth behind the fossils. To be women interested in fossil hunting and reconstruction was considered odd. But to question God, the Bible, and men, and to introduce the concept of extinction in a Bible-driven world was radical. Scientists of the day never credited Mary Anning with the work she had done yet sought her out when looking for particular specimens. Recognition of a woman as anything other than a "spare part" was hard to come by in the nineteenth century.

Aside from the scientific aspect of this book, Chevalier has written a story of friendship between two women of different generations and different social classes with a common interest in fossil hunting. Like all friendships, theirs included mutual respect and admiration as well as envy and jealousy. I'm actually hard-pressed to say which of the two women I found more interesting. And I would venture to say they are actually the Remarkable Creatures, more so than the fossils uncovered in this book.

Another brilliant book by Tracy Chevalier. The only downside is that you have to wait until January to buy it.


CLB said...

Oh can't wait!

TreeDiva said...

Nancy, there's an good interview with the author (audio & text) plus an excerpt on the NPR website. You and your readers might enjoy it. (I did!)