Sometimes I wished I had studied to be a paleontologist, because, well, fossils are cool! But then I think that would be very dusty and dirty and there would be a lot of camping and such. But I can always read about fossils!
Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier is about two rather remarkable (see title) women in the early 19th century. Living in Lyme, on the ocean coast, Elizabeth Philpot develops a love for fossil hunting. There she meets Mary Anning, a young, low-class girl selling her fossil finds to help support her family. The two form an unlikely friendship over their shared passion. Along the way the women and their discoveries challenge the commonly held beliefs concerning the age of the earth and the permanence of God’s creatures. Their relationship is threatened by class differences and the appearance of fossil-collecting men who wish to take credit for the women’s work.
What I liked: Chevalier does an excellent job transporting the reader to another time and place. Her descriptions are vivid without being overwrought, and she does an excellent job explaining class, gender, and science at the turn of the century England. And fossils are neat, right?!
What I disliked: I felt Chevalier had this brilliant idea for characters in Elizabeth and Mary. But I also felt that she didn’t have a strong plot for these characters. It was like “first this will happen, then this, and then maybe after that this other thing will happen, and then these two things, and then it will end”. And I understand that Victorian society was all about manners and propriety and visiting neighbors and such, but there was no real overarching plot. Some of the minor plot lines were intriguing, but I wanted something to pull it all together. So it dragged on a bit.
Any one interested in the history of “fossil-hunting” or readers of historical fiction will enjoy this novel. Just know that it has a gentle pace and is more about the characters than the plot.