Hey all! Happy November! I thought I’d kickstart the month with a long overdue book review.
Title: Remarkable Creatures
Author: Tracy Chevalier
Publisher: Harper Collins
Published in: 2009
Number of pages (in this paperback edition): 340
I know I like basically every book I read, but I did especially love this one. Chevalier offers an exceptional take on historic fiction – one of my favourite genres. I must admit that I was unsure when I read the blurb, and I did unfortunately do the age old no-no of judging a book by its cover. My first thought was “eurgh, do I really want to read a book about fossils? I like the history of people, rather than the history of rocks”. What a naive thought. The book was incredible and highly interesting, and I did subsequently do some research on fossils to be perfectly honest! I found myself totally immersed in this story. The history graduate in me relishes the fact that this book is based on true events and the romanticist in me enjoys the back story of the characters lives that Chevalier has invented.
I enjoyed the fact that the book encompasses many different themes, the most prominent one being gender equality, as well as class divisions and the argument of religion vs science. I feel that the fact that this book highlights how women were treated as second class citizens is really important. We see that Mary was treated awfully because of her gender and class despite the fact that she had made one of the most important discoveries in history. It makes me wonder how many other new discoveries or inventions were made by women that were ignored in history, or if any famous men have taken the credit for anything that was actually found or created by a woman. The fact that no one also never really listened or acknowledged Mary and her skillset and gave her the full credit for it (despite Elizabeth Philpot’s hard work) was also due to the fact that she was poor and lower class. I think it’s awful that even today, so many people are unable to get recognition or able to better themselves because of their class or gender. The book highlights that we have come so far in terms or equality, but also makes you realise that we still have a long way to go. I also found the fact that Chevlier explores the religion vs science argument extremely interesting, especially as the early nineteenth century was the time of enlightenment and change. As the book exhibits, there was a certain fear around new discoveries that acted against what Christians believed. For example, the concept that God built the world in seven days and built it to be perfect, really doesn’t account for the fact that Mary Anning is finding fossils and bones of dinosaurs and creatures that lived such a long time ago. As the book says, how can a creature that is no longer on the earth have existed and died out if God had built everything to be perfect? I feel that the book therefore also illustrates the true zeitgiest of the time that religion was everything people knew but more and more evidence was coming to light that pointed more towards science and evolution that God and so it was a really confusing era. I feel that Chevlier included all of these themes to convey why Mary Anning was outcast and why her place in the Scientific and Natural History worlds was not as prolific as her male, richer counterparts.
I also liked the fact that Chevalier adds a dramatised view of what Mary’s personal life might have been like, and it’s a really interesting take. I won’t discuss this in too much detail as I dont want to include too many spoilers but I will say that it is a great touch on an already awe-inspiring story and showcases the hurdles that Mary and Elizabeth Philpott have had to endure. It does make you wonder how true to the mark Chevalier’s ideas are and if some of the dramatitisations may generally have been true. The only thing I will say is that there is such a huge build up to the story and it does end reasonably quickly; the reader may perhaps find that the ending is a little rushed. Nevertheless, I still think that this book is really well-written and captivating.
I also have to admit that despite having a history degree, I generally had no idea who Mary Anning was until I came across this book, and it’s very sad. I feel that Chevalier’s work will help get Mary’s voice across, and I hope that more and more people will read this book and be as inspired by Mary and her legacy as I was. I’d 100% recommend this book.
If you’ve read this book, what do you think of it? What books are you reading at the moment? Let me know in the comments below X
Thanks for reading!
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