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Remarkable Creatures [Hardcover]

Tracy Chevalier
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (167 customer reviews)

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Book Description

24 Aug 2009

In the year of the 150th anniversary of Origin of Species, set in a town where Jane Austen was a frequent visitor, Tracy Chevalier once again shows her uncanny sense for the topical.

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 marked for greatness. When she uncovers unknown dinosaur fossils in the cliffs near her home, she sets the scientific world alight, challenging ideas about the world’s creation and stimulating debate over our origins. In an arena dominated by men, however, Mary is soon reduced to a serving role, facing prejudice from the academic community, vicious gossip from neighbours, and the heartbreak of forbidden love. Even nature is a threat, throwing bitter cold, storms, and landslips at her.

Luckily Mary finds an unlikely champion in prickly, intelligent Elizabeth Philpot, a middle-class spinster who is also fossil-obsessed. Their relationship strikes a delicate balance between fierce loyalty and barely suppressed envy. Despite their differences in age and background, Mary and Elizabeth discover that, in struggling for recognition, friendship is their strongest weapon.

Remarkable Creatures is Tracy Chevalier’s stunning new 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.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins; First Edition First Impression edition (24 Aug 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007178379
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007178377
  • Product Dimensions: 21 x 13.6 x 3.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (167 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 271,602 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Tracy is the author of seven historical novels, including the international bestseller GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING, which has sold over 4 million copies and been made into an Oscar-nominated film starring Scarlett Johansson and Colin Firth. American by birth, British by geography, she lives in London with her husband and son and cat. Her most recent novel, THE LAST RUNAWAY, is her first novel to be set in the United States, and she learned how to make quilts for it. Tracy is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and has honorary doctorates from her alma maters Oberlin College and the University of East Anglia. Her website will tell you more about her and her books.

Product Description


Praise for Remarkable Creatures

‘It is a stunning story, compassionately reimagined’

‘Chevalier recently stated that making fossils sexy was one of her chief aims in writing Remarkable Creatures. With this very entertaining book, she has certainly succeeded’

‘Very entertaining and informative’
The Times

‘The backdrop of shifting evolutionary ideas finds a rueful echo in Chevalier’s tender portrayal of two extraordinary women who refuse to be constrained by society’
Sunday Telegraph

‘An enthralling novel of female friendship and fossil hunting.’
Woman and Home

‘An extraordinary tale about two 19th century women who attempt to alter ideas about creationism with their discoveries of dinosaur fossils’
Daily Mirror

‘Involving themes of friendship and the hidden world of women as much as the excitement of discovering the fossils’ significance, Remarkable Creatures is itself a find’

‘Chevalier shows her skill for working history’s lost individuals into far-reaching fiction’
Good Housekeeping

About the Author

Tracy Chevalier is the author of five previous novels, including the international bestseller Girl with a Pearl Earring, The Virgin Blue, Falling Angels, The Lady and the Unicorn and Burning Bright. Born in Washington, DC, she moved in 1984 to London, where she lives with her husband and son. She is Chairman of the Society of Authors and has a website at

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
72 of 74 people found the following review helpful
By kymara VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
The woman who spawned the famous tongue twister 'She sells sea shells on the sea shore' is again immortalised in words in this latest novel by Tracy Chevalier.

You can find a short biography of Mary Anning at the Natural History Museum website, but what this novel does in fill in the gaps (with some imaginative license, of course). For example, while history records a Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas James Birch as a patron of the family, this novel puts a different spin on his relationship with Mary Anning. The interplay of fact and fiction makes for really interesting reading.

Mary Anning is not the only heroine of this novel, her close friend Elizabeth Philpott, an older woman, recently relocated to Lyme Regis from London. She is educated and knowledgeable about earth sciences; she has a passion for finding fossils, while for Mary Anning it was a harsh necessity. Were the novel just written from Mary's point of view, I believe it would have suffered. Having a more mature voice adds balance and depth - especially in the sections where Elizabeth starts to question the Church's unscientific explanation of fossils of now extinct creatures.

For those who have an interest in geology, ecology or women scientists, this novel will hold extra special appeal, but the story is compelling enough, and the writing skilled enough that it's really an enjoyable novel for all. However if you are looking for a strict biography of Mary Anning, this would not fit the bill - artistic license has been applied.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hidden worlds 24 Aug 2009
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Tracy Chevalier has a talent for visualising the lives of people she has never met. Girl With a Pearl Earring was an excellent example and now Remarkable Creatures brings to life the character of Mary Anning, just as Mary brought to life in her mind the fossils she discovered on the beaches around Lyme Regis. Mary Anning really existed and was an incredible person - clever yet uneducated, working class yet at home with all levels of society, female yet independent - not just of spirit but financially as well.

We see Mary's life not just through her own eyes but those of her friend, Elizabeth Philpot, another historical character who founded a museum in Lyme dedicated to fossils. With references to Jane Austen and the Royal Society where Charles Darwin was to present his own findings, the book is contextualised in an era when enormous changes were happening in society and the scientific and religious communities. The lives of women was tightly controlled and women like Elizabeth and Mary, who stepped out of the mould, were ridiculed and pitied at the same time. Neither married but both made a huge impact on our understanding of the past and the creation of the world. Well told and very readable.
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41 of 43 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating novel - Fascinating topic! 23 Aug 2009
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I was really excited about this new novel from Tracy Chevalier because I've read a biography of Mary Anning (which Chevalier cites in the back of her book as reading for further research) and I wasn't disappointed. This is a really lovely novel. It is set in such an interesting period of scientific discovery and history, and being published to coincide with the 150th anniversary of Darwin's Origin of Species, it ties in very topically with the debates at the moment.
It's a gentle type novel which charts the friendship between Mary Anning, a working-class fossil hunter in Lyme Regis, and Elizabeth Philpot, a gentlewoman fallen on hard times who becomes a fossil hunter in her own right. It also highlights the difficulties that women in the scientific community must have faced in the fight to be taken seriously.
At times I was frustrated with the novel switching between the two first person viewpoints (of Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot) and I think it might have worked better as a third person narrative, as at times Mary Anning was slightly unconvincing and I feel that the invention of a love affair for Anning was unecessary and somehow detracted from her achievements.
Really though, these are small criticisms of a very enjoyable novel and I would recommend you read this novel and then read some of the books which Chevalier suggests in the back of the book to find out more about the remarkable Mary Anning!
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44 of 47 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not as remarkable as I would have wished 20 Aug 2009
By The Five Sisters VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I thoroughly enjoyed Tracy Chevalier's earlier books until the last one, `Burning Bright' which I found so disappointing that I stopped reading half way through and so approached this next one with far less anticipation than the others. I was pleasantly surprised therefore to find `Remarkable Creatures' a very readable tale.

The story revolves around the life of Mary Anning , the now renowned fossil collector, and her friendship with a lesser known collector, Elizabeth Philpot. We become aware of the impossible difficulties facing a woman trying to have her work and views recognised by the scientific establishment in the early 19th century and also begin to appreciate the problem that Mary Anning and her contemporaries had in reconciling the evidence of the fossils with the Biblical account of life on earth.

I am only giving this novel three stars because although it made an interesting read, rekindled my interest in fossils and has made me keen to revisit the Jurassic coast, I found it very unsettling that I was never sure what was fact and what was fiction. I am not a reader of historical novels so maybe this is a common problem but I really wanted to know if the background story of love and friendship was made up purely as a ruse to bind the recorded facts together. I think that this is a novel which can rouse one to an interest in fossils, can hold one's attention throughout but, having roused your interest, is ultimately unsatisfying because it leaves too many questions about the lives of the main characters unanswered.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating real-life story
Interesting well written fiction about a real character, Mary Anning, which consisted of a lot of facts making one want to read more about her.
Published 2 days ago by Jill Drinkwater
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent novel
This book arrived promptly in excellent condition. This is a lively and informative novel - i particularly liked reading about life in Lyme Regis over 100 years ago as i know the... Read more
Published 9 days ago by Jo Cursley
5.0 out of 5 stars A good read.
I am interested in this subject and in Lyme Regis itself. Did not know of Mary Anning consequently shall use my local library
to find out more about her. Read more
Published 14 days ago by Helen Lewis
5.0 out of 5 stars Remarkable book!
Tracy Chevalier is a great writer, I love her books, this was a good story line, very interesting. thank you Tracy
Published 2 months ago by JJ
4.0 out of 5 stars Fossil hunting brought alive
So well researched the Facts are factual, the fiction absorbing, as always Tracy Chevalier is a good and memorable read.
Published 2 months ago by typecast76
5.0 out of 5 stars The story behind the craze for fossil-hunting
Based on truth and well-researched, this novel reveals the controversy between Creationists and the new Darwinism. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Fred Everett
5.0 out of 5 stars Engaging
I found this to be a beautifully written and totally engaging book. I was transported to the Lyme of the eighteenth century.
Published 2 months ago by B Rodgers
3.0 out of 5 stars Simple, enjoyable read
Simple story, well told. No great drama but interesting historical tale. Two particular points 1/ the appalling but accepted misogyny of the time and 2/ the arising conflict... Read more
Published 2 months ago by BrentwoodBlue
5.0 out of 5 stars Really excellent as usual
Another gentle and fascinating novel by tracey chevlier which has helped release the boredom of being in bed with the flu.
Published 2 months ago by EMMA SCHOFIELD
4.0 out of 5 stars Book Review: Remarkable Creatures - Tracy Chevalier
This is typical historical fiction, but what I like is that we are not focussing on Britain's monarchs over the past years but one of our greatest and possibly our first... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Booketta
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