Saturday, January 9, 2010

Truly Remarkable

Hello Friend Flower!  

How do you feel about Tracy Chevalier? I well remember the great sales and customer love for Girl With the Pearl Earring. I thought it was terrific too. Between that book and Girl In Hyacinth Blue overnight it seemed there as a new sub-genre in fiction with a clamoring audience: Novels About Artists And/Or Models And/Or Vermeer.

Chevalier's subsequent novels have all been historical fiction and in some way have centered on the arts. Her latest book, Remarkable Creatures bucks that trend a bit. Remarkable Creatures is historical fiction but it retells the lives of fossil hunters and Darwin predecessors Elizabeth Philpot and Mary Anning. These women were two of the most successful fossil finders ever and as a result were directly responsible for the successful careers of many male

Elizabeth, the older of the two women by 20 years, was marshaled down to Lyme Regis from London by a married brother eager to find a cheaper way to support a spinster sister. She was 25 at the time. Mary grew up in Lyme. Her father was an unsuccessful cabinet maker who was once declined work by Jane Austen who wanted a lower estimate for mending a chest. Mary's skill at finding the strange rocks, "the curies" established her as the family bread winner and made her famous. The children's tongue twister "She sells seashells down by the seashore" was inspired by her. The two were tolerated by the scientists of the day but not allowed membership to any of the scientific societies of the day.

The primary backdrop to Elizabeth and Mary's findings are the religious reactions to the woman's findings. As often happens Mary, Elizabeth and the scientists of the day unearthing and studying the newly termed Dinosaurs were disordering God's work and plan for nature. There were plenty of clergymen and church goers of the day to nay say the science of the fossil discoveries. Not to worry, whatever was found it was all a part of God's plan. Life on Earth predating Adam and Eve? Couldn't be.

The lives of these two women were extraordinary and Chevalier does them justice. Their struggles, successes and their challenging friendship are spellbinding fodder for Chevalier's gifts. Chevalier puts them squarely in their time period and their place in scientific history with fascinating detail and compassion. There are times when secondary characters seem to be introduced only to expose more ways that the 1800's kept women down but that is my one very minor criticism. That aside Remarkable Creatures is right up there with Girl With A Pearl Earring. Meaning that it is a well researched, well written, great for book groups, satsifying novel. Good job Ms Chevalier!

So Happy.

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