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REMARKABLE CREATURES By: Tracy Chevalier February 20, 2010

Posted by lycan librarian in book reviews, Books and reading.

     Here is another brand new historical fiction selection that I have just read and can’t wait to share. Tracy Chevalier has created yet another vivid and wonderful work in REMARKABLE CREATURES, the account of Mary Anning, the 19th century British fossil hunter who discovered many incredible remains on the beaches of Lyme. She found the first nearly complete Pleisaurus, and the first Pterodactyl macronyx, among others. As a woman among the male scholars, she was mostly considered “a female, a spare part,” but her knowledge, experience and personal grace eventually brought her recognition and allowed her to raise herself and her family out of their poverty.

     Chevalier captures Lyme’s beaches beautifully. The book feels grey, like the blended sky, water and sand on the gloomy coast, and she does not romanticize the environment. I drank many mugs of hot tea as I devoured this book, because my fingers grew cold as I read about the air’s chill and the pervading clay soil that entombed the fossils, clung to clothing and burrowed under fingernails. The Anning family’s poverty is shown with heartbreaking clarity — the father, a cabinetmaker and amateur fossil finder, died when Mary was ten, and it was the girl’s ability to find and sell fossils that fully supported them.

     Chevalier adds in three somewhat eccentric spinster sisters who moved to Lyme when their brother married and sold their family home in London. The middle sister, Elizabeth Philpot, who also enjoys fossil hunting and collecting, befriends Mary, and their relationship is an interesting touch that adds greatly to the characterization and plot. Interestingly, Philpot was a real  historical figure whose  fossil fish collection wound up in Oxford.

     It is the Lycan Librarian’s opinion that, as always, Tracy Chevalier has done a fantastic job of bringing the past to life and presenting it to her faithful readers on the glittering silver platter that is her magnificent style of writing.



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