Saturday, January 7, 2012

Remarkable Creatures—Tracy Chevalier

Looking up at the stars so far away, I begun to feel there was a thread running between the earth and them. Another thread was strung out too, connecting the past to the future, with the ichie at one end, dying all that long time ago and waiting for me to find it. I didn't know what was at the other end of the thread. These two threads were so long I couldn't even begin to measure them, and where one met the other, there was me. My life led up to that moment, then led away again, like the tide making its highest mark on the beach and then retreating. (224)

From the author of The Girl with a Pearl Earring, this is an interesting novelization about Mary Anning, who discovered several fossils that were integral to our studies of archeology and history (including those of the plesiosaurs, icthyosaurs, and the first complete pterodactyl).

Although the book does explore the findings of Mary Anning, it is perhaps more accurate to say that it explores the relationship between two women from different social classes who were brought together by a common interest. The book has several chapters, and alternates between chapters written by Mary Anning, and chapters written by Elizabeth Philpot. Mary has lived in Lyme her entire life, and has spent her days exploring for fossils (what she calls "curiosities" or "curies"), which she then sells to tourists in order to help support her family. Elizabeth Philpot moves to Lyme with her two similarly unwed sisters following the marriage of their brother. Elizabeth, while a spinster, is still a lady, and Mary is a simple town girl.

Elizabeth states from early in the book that she is surprised that her relationship with Mary blossomed the way that it did, that she learned so much from Mary, considering their different stations in life and that Mary was quite a bit younger. Mary teaches Elizabeth about the fossils to be found and the best way to extract them from the beach, and Elizabeth teaches Mary the proper names for them.

While Mary starts off finding small fossils, one day she and her brother find a larger one - what we will learn is the fossil of an icthyosaurus. Through the course of the rest of the book, we learn about her other discoveries, as well as the people who come to be interested in them.

This was a subtly informative, well phrased glance into the lives of two women who adventured into territory which had previously been reserved for men. They both remained unmarried, focusing instead on their passions for fossils. A great look into the "everyday" lives of these two.