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79 of 81 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An extra special treat for those with an interest in geology, but well rounded
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...
Published on 26 Aug 2009 by kymara

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46 of 49 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not as remarkable as I would have wished
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...
Published on 20 Aug 2009 by The Five Sisters


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79 of 81 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An extra special treat for those with an interest in geology, but well rounded, 26 Aug 2009
By 
kymara - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Remarkable Creatures (Hardcover)
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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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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hidden worlds, 24 Aug 2009
By 
Mrs. J. Jones "janejones" (Chester) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Remarkable Creatures (Hardcover)
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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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42 of 44 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating novel - Fascinating topic!, 23 Aug 2009
By 
Charliecat (Oxfordshire, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Remarkable Creatures (Hardcover)
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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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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Her best yet?, 13 Sep 2009
By 
Phil (Bristol, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Remarkable Creatures (Hardcover)
Tracy Chevalier's previous novel, Burning Bright, received a savaging by Amazon reviewers, and rightly so. But now she has shown her mettle by writing what may be her best book yet, and I congratulate her for bouncing back with such confidence and skill. Remarkable Creatures tackles serious themes - how women were kept on the periphery of scientific progress by dismissive men; how they were constrained in their expectations of marriage by class and 'reputation'; how individuals responded to advances in knowledge that challenged their faith - but it's never laboured. The language is plain, but elegant and fluid.

The chapters alternate narrations by poverty-stricken Mary Anning and genteel Elizabeth Philpot, and I enjoyed both equally. Mary's voice must have been hard to get right, and it's generally convincing (though I'm not sure about the idiom she uses, which I heard as Yorkshire in my head, though it may well be authentically old-Dorset). Elizabeth, too, is a winning creation: principled, compassionate and kind, and made rounder by flaws in her character. Her part of the story owes a debt to Pride and Prejudice, but is too persuasive and powerful to feel like a cheap crib, and anyway the ending of the novel severed such connections (and was immensely moving).

Chevalier is a beacon of hope in these times of literary mediocrity, and this is a wise, gentle, thought-provoking novel, beautifully crafted, and with a grip that never falters for a moment. A wonderful read, and highly recommended.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent read, 26 Aug 2009
This review is from: Remarkable Creatures (Hardcover)
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Elizabeth Philpot and Mary Anning are from very different backgrounds, the former being a lady of limited wealth and the later a working class girl whose family struggle to make ends meet. Mary has always had an interest in fossils as well as an ability to find them. When Elizabeth moves from London down to the Dorset coast she develops an interest in the curiosities found on the beach. Mary and Elizabeth quickly form a friendship that at times is not always easy due to their different backgrounds and social class. In this period, women were not expected to have scientific interests, and therefore the two women are initially deemed to be rather odd and not to be taken seriously. So as Mary makes a great number of important finds, others take credit for her work much to the dismay of Elizabeth. The story then continues to plot Elizabeth's efforts to gain Mary the recognition she deserves.

To me this novel felt like `classic literature' but at a modern pace. Perhaps this could have been due to the subject matter, but also from the style, although the story moved along and never seemed to drag. I felt totally engaged with the characters and found it hard to put the book down. As this is the first of Chevalier's novels I have read, I can't say if it is typical of her writing, but having read this I would definitely read more. I have seen this book described as a cross between Darwin and Austen. I think this is a little misleading other than it is story of two women with an interest in fossils. I always find Austen's novels difficult to finish as they seemed to get bogged down with long, flowery, overly descriptive passages. This is not the case with Remarkable Creatures. An excellent read.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Remarkable story, 23 Aug 2009
By 
Denise hale (CHELTENHAM, Glos United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Remarkable Creatures (Hardcover)
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I visited Lyme Regis on holiday last year and went to its museum where I was surprised to find that it was a local girl who was the finder of fossil remains for which Lyme Regis is famous. Tracy Chevalier's fascination with Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpott went further than mine and she has written a novel based on their lives.
Most boys seem to go through a phase of fossil fascination but this novel reclaims the female side of its history whilst also presenting the theological problems that the existence of fossils created. Alongside it are the everyday lives of two very different Victorian women; one a middle-class, spinsters who lives in reduced circumstances with her two sisters, the other a working-class girl whose observational skills and natural intelligence could easily have been uncredited.
Both women feature as narrators of the novel along with Molly Anning, Mary's mother.
This novel is an interesting and enjoyable read, even if you are not interested in fossil hunting.
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46 of 49 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 (Manchester, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Remarkable Creatures (Hardcover)
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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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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful story, bringing Mary Anning and fossil hunting vividly to life, 16 Oct 2009
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S. Barnes (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Remarkable Creatures (Hardcover)
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A brilliant read. Tracy Chevalier has yet again come up with a brilliant (and original) idea for a book. The story of Mary Anning, fossil hunter of Lyme Regis in the early years of the nineteenth century, makes for a really good novel. Superbly researched, well-written, and with enough fictional embellishments to make a good plot as well, I highly recommend this for anyone who already likes Chevalier's novels, all fans of well-researched historical fiction, and for anyone with an interest in fossils and fossil-hunting as well. A resounding 5* from me.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars She sells sea shells...., 21 Aug 2009
By 
DAR - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Remarkable Creatures (Hardcover)
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This fictionalised account of the life of Mary Anning, the greatest fossil hunter according to the Natural History Museum and thought to be the inspiration behind the tongue twister "She sells sea shells by the sea shore", is a warm and loving paean to Anning's remarkable life and work. The novel centers on the relationship between Mary and Elizabeth Philpott, two women of disparate ages and pedigree whose fascination with fossils transcends their different backrounds. Told alternatively from each of their perspectives, the reader is gently, if self-consciously, led into their worlds, always aware of their relative positions to each other, to the men in their lives and to society as a whole.

Chevalier does a very good job of juxtaposing these elements, recreating a time when fossils represented the growing gap between scientific evidence and religious and social belief systems. She creates faithful interpretations of these women and supplies us with rich historical detail and factual background, all carefully worded and woven to transport us to a more gentle, endearing, but ultimately repressed time. It is an easy read, like a leisurely stroll on the beach with Fowles and Austen in the distance, one peering out over the ocean, the other skipping ahead to climb the rocks. Unfortunately, that's where you're left at the end of the novel, feeling somewhere left behind by the better novelists of Victorian England.

I genuinely liked this novel, but I wish that I had loved it. It was probably more a 3 1/2 stars than a four, but still worth reading.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A tale of two remarkable women, 8 Aug 2009
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This review is from: Remarkable Creatures (Hardcover)
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Remarkable Creatures I confess that I've never read any of Chevalier's novels before (not even the most famous 'Girl with a Pearl Earring'), although after reading 'Remarkable Creatures' I definitely plan to change that situation.

As a big fan of Jane Austen (and 19th century literature in general), and a layman with a fascinated amateur interest in Darwin, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel about two very remarkable women with vastly different backgrounds but a shared interest in Paleontology.

Mary Anning is an uneducated girl who, as a baby, was struck by lightning and survived. She has an interest in the fossils she finds on the beaches around Lyme Regis. Orphaned Elizabeth Philpot is a middle-class spinster (one of three sisters) who moves to Lyme Regis on the occasion of her brother's marriage. She discovers a similar interest in fossils, more specifically fossil fish. She and Mary become friends, and share in the excitement of unearthing the fossilised skeletons of long-extinct creatures - at a time when Darwin's ideas on Evolution were scarcely known to anyone.

This is also a tale of an unlikely friendship between two very different women. It's very much a period piece. Anning was a real life, self-taught, amateur Paleontologist, so it's a biographical and historical tale that offers a fictionalised look at her remarkable life. Highly recomemnded.
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Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier (Hardcover - 24 Aug 2009)
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