Wednesday, April 13, 2011


Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Dutton (Jan 5 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780525951452

First of all I want to send a HUGE THANK YOU to Penguin Group (Canada) for sending me a copy of this book for review!  I am embarrassed to say that it arrived last November, and what with school and my Mom's stroke, it got forgotten until recently.  Better late than never, right?  RIGHT?!!!

Here's the thing, though, I started this book at 8am THIS MORNING and finished it at 6pm.  And I really read it, I am no skimmer, not with review books anyway.  I have been known to skim through sections of my personal reads (kind of like now with Fall of Giants, some of the war discussion/politics stuff.. SNORE!)  

Remarkable Creatures had me intrigued from the first page and kept me glued to the end.  A small novel, but not in story, you will be able to finish it in short order and it will leave you with thoughts to ponder and best of all curious about the historical characters in the book.  

Some of my all time favourite reads are of books that take real-life but long dead people and fill in the blanks of the history books.  I am a huge sucker for that.  Such as Cane River, which ranks in heavy in my top 10, and Hugh and Bess by Susan Higgenbotham, and my most recent historical fiction His Last Letter.  Oh how I envy those authors, spending years knee deep in research of letters, and journals and news clippings of the day.  Taking fascinating people throughout history and fleshing out swoony love lives and complicated mother/daughter relationships.  It's just pure awesomeness. 

Remarkable Creatures takes the lives of two women in the mid 1800's, one of whom ended up being quite famous as a fossil hunter.  Mary Anning is credited with uncovering the very first complete skeleton of the Ichthyosaurus, and also uncovered another bizarre creature called the Plesiosaurus.  Obviously a woman with a non-traditional job that she literally fell into as a child while playing on the beach with her father, it was soon realized that she had "the eye" and could spot a fossil from a great distance and long before anyone else could.  Searching the beach everyday to bring small fossils home to her family so they could eat. 

One day while on the beach she met a fellow fossil hunter, Elizabeth, and the two formed an odd friendship.  Mary was no more than a child and Elizabeth, 20 years her senior, an aging spinster, intelligent, driven, and lonely in her pursuit of her curiosities.  

Mary and her brother uncover what arguably was the most important fossil find of the 19th century, and indeed challenged the religious and scientific views of the day.  The questions were beginning to surface, could there have been creatures before us that are no longer?  Did God make a mistake?  If God created the world and all of the creatures in it, why would he kill off these ones?  What is extinction?  As you can imagine, this ruffled many a feathers, and the fact that this was discovered by a "woman" made it a particularly hard pill to swallow by many.   

As most of you know by now, I don't like to give big long synopsis' of books and give away the story.  In fact, whenever I read a review, I tend to skip much of a synopsis because I like to go in fresh.  So, mostly I like to give you my impression and if I liked it and why. 

I LOVED it.  It was a great read, fast and the story moved beautifully from one page to the next. There is an element of romance in the story, but not too much and not in a stereotypical way.  There is the complicated life of a woman in that day and age, and what it means to be in your 20's and have no marriage prospects.  It asks the question, who deserves credit?  How does fame change a persons view of themselves and those around them?  

What is most important in life?  

If you have any interest in archeology or dinosaurs, than you will appreciate this book on that level as well.  I live in Alberta, we have arguably one of the most famous and extensive dinosaur museums in the world filled with fossils discovered right here in our province.  Reading the description of the two creatures Mary uncovered was really cool, because in the Royal Tyrell Museum are two exact replicas of the creatures in all their amazing glory, so I could easily picture them in my head.  And not just a photo from widipedia, I have seen the sheer size of the fossils that Tracy writes about, and it really blows my mind every time I visit the museum.  

Remarkable Creatures is a story about friendship between two likely women, one destined for greatness from infancy after surviving a lightening strike that is believed to have given her her gift of "the eye" and the other a prickly spinster.. both fossil hunters who uncover two of the most important discoveries in the 19th centuries and all of the politics and drama surrounding them.  

For more about Tracy Chevalier and her novels and, in particular, THIS one.. click here. 

RATING:  5/5

Interview with Tracy below:

4 Blabs:

Alyce said...

This one is already on my wish list so I'm thrilled to see that you liked it so much.

I had to laugh at what you said about skimming, there are some classics that have inspired me to skim, especially when the author/narrator start to monologue their personal political/moral opinion (like War & Peace).

Anyway, I very much enjoyed reading your review! :)

Audra said...

Great review -- your enjoyment of this book is evident and now I want to read it badly. I'm in the queue for the ebook via my library system -- I'm so eager to read it.

Jennifer Lane said...

I've read Girl with a Pearl Earring (loved that and the movie) and I attended a book reading of The Lady and the Unicorn. Tracy Chevalier is an awesome author and I look forward to reading this one. Thanks for the great review!

Lisa said...

Alyce, I have had War and Peace on my shelf for a few years now, I loved Anna Karenina, but have yet to tackle W &P, you have now inspired me!

Audra: Can't wait to read your thoughts on it, be sure to send me the link!

Jennifer: I would love to read Girl with the Pearl Earring, and was very intrigued by her other novels via her website. I love books like that!

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