Monday 24 October 2011

Chevalier, Tracy "Remarkable Creatures"

Chevalier, Tracy "Remarkable Creatures" - 2009

I had originally suggested the book because I liked "The Girl with the Pearl Earring" and "The Virgin Blue" (apparently "The Lady and the Unicorn" is supposed to be even better). After reading it, I would have preferred it to be a non-fiction book. Most of our readers agreed. One of us googled the two women afterwards and found it a lot more interesting than the book. I couldn't agree more.

We did think it very compelling that she used body parts, we never thought about people in those terms, like someone “leading with his nose”.

The book generated a good discussion on serious topics, though. We talked about the time period (Age of Enlightenment and then French Revolution), the chances women had back then, how science was regarded, what people thought when they found the first dinosaur fossils.

We did like a few things, the topic most of all, that the author raised issues without batting on them. We also liked the different words Mary Anning had for the fossils, like "verteberries".

However, we found the characters two-dimensional, didn't like the fact that we were told instead of shown, the romance was so cliché and overdone.

Oh, and one last thing: Why do they always have to change the titles when translating them? Granted, "Zwei bemerkenswerte Frauen" (Two remarkable women) in German isn't far off but they leave out the dinosaurs completely. What is wrong with "Bemerkenswerte Kreaturen"?? Some other languages are even worse, the Spanish title is "Las huellas de la vida" (The traces of life). And in the Netherlands, you can even buy the English book with a different English title: "Spare Bones".

All in all, we would have expected more of the book but liked being introduced to Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot.

We discussed this in our book club in October 2011.

From the back cover: "A stunning novel of female friendship, forbidden love and evolution from the bestselling author of Girl with a Pearl Earring.

In the early nineteenth century, a windswept beach along the English coast brims with fossils for those with the eye…

From the moment she’s struck by lightning as a baby, it is clear Mary Anning is different. Her discovery of strange fossilized creatures in the cliffs of Lyme Regis sets the world alight. But Mary must face powerful prejudice from a male scientific establishment, not to mention vicious gossip and the heartbreak of forbidden love.

Then – in prickly, clever Elizabeth Philpot, a fossil-obsessed middle-class spinster – she finds a champion, and a rival. Despite their differences in class and age, Mary and Elizabeth’s loyalty and passion for the truth must win out.

Remarkable Creatures is a stunning novel of how one woman’s gift transcends class and gender to lead to some of the most important discoveries of the nineteenth century. Above all, it is a revealing portrait of the intricate and resilient nature of female friendship.

Find here the other books I read by this author.


  1. I hope someone someday does attempt a biography of Mary Anning. There were some non-fiction sources given in the back of my hardcover American edition.

    1. Yes, that would be lovely. I surely would want to read that.

  2. In the middle of it, I'm also having the thought that nonfiction might be a better treatment since I'm constantly asking myself what's real and what's fiction.

    1. I know what you mean, Joy. I often ask myself that when reading a fictional account of something. But today, we have Wikipedia and Google and I am meticulously searching for more information. And often go and find a non-fiction book about the subject.