Tracy Chevalier’s latest novel, Remarkable Creatures, is a character driven story centering on the unlikely friendship of Elizabeth Philpot, a London-bred middle-class spinster, and Mary Anning, a poor young uneducated girl. The novel begins in the early years of the nineteenth century with the impending relocation of the three unmarried Philpot sisters. Along with the sisters, Chevalier transports her reader effortlessly to the southwest English coastal town of Lyme Regis. This is where the Philpot sisters are sent to live out their days. Despite the town’s size and rustic nature, each of the Philpots develops her niche within the isolated community. Louise has her gardens. Margaret has society within the assembly halls. And Elizabeth has discovered her passion in the fossils found along the Lyme Bay beaches.
It is in her quest for fossils that Elizabeth Philpot meets the young Mary Anning. Mary is the daughter of a local cabinet maker. She cannot read or write, but she has a keen knowledge of fossils and how to find them. The women form a friendship based on their common interest and each becomes both student and teacher to the other. Together, Mary and Elizabeth, discover a skeleton that sets the scientific world abuzz and rocks the religious establishment. The discovery forces many to question how God can allow one of his creations to go extinct. Soon the community of Lyme Regis is host to fossil hunters from all over England and The Continent.
Chevalier reintroduces two historical figures, Elizabeth Philpot and Mary Anning, who both helped to drive the new science of paleontology and fossils out of academia and into the public forum. In Remarkable Creatures, Chevalier brings each woman to life through her skillful handling of individual nuance and dialogue. Although the petty jealousies between Elizabeth and Mary tend to mar the driving narrative in the second third of the novel, the story prevails as informative and entertaining. Chevalier has managed to awaken history through her imaginative story telling.
Nina L. is a writer living in Oregon’s fertile wine country. When she is not reading or writing in her spare time, Nina enjoys hiking in the hills surrounding her cabin.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Plume. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.