This past January I had put together quite a hefty list of books to read through 2012, and I'm happy to say in the month of January through early February, I have finished four of them. The first one on my list that was crossed off was Tracy Chevalier's Remarkable Creatures. Chevalier is the author of "Girl With the Pearl Earring", of movie fame, and I have read all of her books. This one came out in early 2011, and I didn't want to overlook it. She writes exclusively historical fiction, where the novel is based on part truth. Chevalier has the craft of taking an idea out of history--in this case the real Mary Anning--who discovered remains of ancient mammals on the English coast--and writing her tale of friendship with a dash of women's rights for cheeky measure.
This is a story about a spinster who moves out to the coast with her 2 sisters as they are exiled from their brother's London house when he marries. Elizabeth Philpot, has a curious habit of digging in the sand and mud to find fossilized fish, and she comes across a young girl with a very strange history. This girl, Mary, is only a child but already an advanced 'curies finder', who sells them for pennies to visitors who look seaside in the summer. As the novel advances, so do the decades and Mary 'strikes it rich' when she discovers something extraordinary.
There was a time in my life (a decade, really) where I wanted to be an archaeologist, and this novel spoke to that part of my heart. I loved reading about the actual work of finding the fossils, and how a European market, scientific research, and religious awakening happened because of "Mary's eye" and what 'extinct' means.
This story is about women's places in the world, friendship, lost dreams, and life's passionate work. I give this novel 3 1/2 stars out of 5. It was written well, but not Chevalier's best, though I enjoyed it.