Synopsis: In the early nineteenth century, a windswept beach along the English coast brims with fossils for those with the eye…
From the moment she’s struck by lightning as a baby, it is clear Mary Anning is different. Her discovery of strange fossilized 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.
Title: Remarkable Creatures
Author: Tracy Chevalier
It’s very difficult not to love Chevalier’s novels; she has a way of effortlessly building a story around historically famous figures with enough fictional embellishments to make an addictively good story. Remarkable Creatures is the third Chevalier novel I have read and I found myself lost in the gentle pace and beautifully depicted cliffs of Lyme Regis.
The story is based on Mary Anning, the woman who spawned the famous tongue twister ‘She sells sea shells on the sea shore’. From the moment she’s struck by lightning as a baby, it is clear Mary Anning is has a talent like no other, she has an ‘eye’ for discovering fossils. She finds a friend and ultimately a rival in Elizabeth Philpot, a fossil-obsessed middle-class spinster. Remarkable Creatures is a stunning depiction of how one woman’s gift transcends class and gender to lead to some of the most important discoveries of the nineteenth century.
When I first started reading the book, I was uncertain whether I’d like it – I’m not really interested in fossils etc. and didn’t want to read a historical fiction based on the subject. Thankfully, the plot is actually centred on female friendship told through the lens of fossil hunting.
Therein lay its charm – Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot are not the female heroines of Jane Austen novels, they are not especially beautiful or charming. They lived in poverty, whether genteel or grinding and accepted their ‘spinsterhood’ – albeit sometimes begrudgingly – in order to follow their interest of fossil hunting.
All in all, this is yet another beautifully written piece by Chevalier. If I’m honest, it’s not my absolute favourite , but that’s just because nothing can really compare to Girl with a Pearl Earring in my opinion.