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Friday, May 14, 2010

Remarkable Creatures

Remarkable Creatures
by Tracy Chevalier
audiobook: 10.25 hours
narrated by Charlotte Parry and Susan Lyons

*** About the Book ***

In the early 1800s in the English coast town of Lyme Regis, young Mary Anning helps support her family by finding “curies” on the beach. These “curies” (short for “curiosities”) are actually fossils and Mary is fascinated with them. Despite her poor, working class status, she becomes the local expert on fossils – much to the despair of her family – and spends the majority of her time on the beach searching for them. One day Mary discovers something different: a complete, intact skeleton. At first everyone thinks it is the remains of a giant crocodile but Mary and several others soon realize that this is a new creature, never before seen by man.

This time period is one of great upheaval in the geological community. The concepts of an ancient earth and of extinction have rattled both the religious community and many intellectuals. This novel looks at that history through the eyes of Mary and also of Elizabeth, a middle-class spinster fascinated by fossil fish.

*** Why I Read It ***

I first heard about this book back in November 2009 when The Book Case posted the trailer for it. I watched that trailer and was COMPLETELY HOOKED by the author’s words. I’m posting it here and I’d love to know what you think of it.

I've been on my library's wait list for this audiobook for months so I was thrilled when it was finally my turn to check it out.

*** My Thoughts ***

In my opinion, this is an example of excellent historical fiction.

I was sucked into the story from the very start and thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. It’s one of those books that made me not want to get out of the car, ever. (In fact I spent several of my lunch breaks eating in my car so I could continue to listen to the audiobook.)

I was fascinating by the history of fossil hunting and the way accepted “facts” about fossils were beginning to change. The newly developing ideas of an ancient earth, the concept of extinction, the budding conflict between religion and science – all these topics were fascinating to me. Then there was the situation of women in society, the class distinctions, the concepts of property and propriety … there was just so much in this book that I loved!

Not only did enjoy the writing and the characters and the narration, but when I got to the end and found out how closely this book is based on fact I was beyond excited. This is the kind of historical fiction I truly love – the kind where I learn tons of facts not just about a time and place but about real people who really lived, all couched in a story that keeps me entranced all the way through.

*** The Real History ***

Tracy Chevalier includes an excellent, detailed author’s note at the end of this book. She explains that all the main characters in this book actually existed and that the vast majority of the book is based on fact. Of course she had to fill in a lot of the details, but Mary and Elizabeth DID actually discover all the fossils discussed in the book, and Mary DID actually work with many of the leading geological minds of the day. She explains that she did truncate time somewhat, in order to make the book flow better, but all the most important facts in the book are based on reality.

*** Your Thoughts ***

I know not everyone will agree with me on this book. When I mentioned on Twitter how much I was enjoying it, a friend sent me the following private message: “That book bored me to tears, and I normally love boring, literary books.” When I expressed my shock she followed up with “Oh, her writing is always beautiful. I just thought there wasn't enough plot for a novel. Would have made a great short story.” See? And I loved every second of this book!

Here are a few other reviews I’ve found:

What did YOU think of this book? If you haven’t read it, does it appeal to you?


Kay said...

I think that trailer is very interesting. I love trailers like that. Just little tidbits of info about books. I know I'll never get to read all the books that I want, but I can try. LOL

I can see why it drew you in, Heather. I have REMARKABLE CREATURES here at home to read and this makes me want to push it further up the list. Thanks for sharing!

Erika Robuck said...

Wow! I made the blog! :)

Yes, I found the book painfully boring, and I usually love Chevalier. I wonder if my experience would have been different if I'd heard it as an audiobook.

Either way, I will always read Chevalier's books. She's a great writer.

Heather said...

I'm so glad you enjoyed this book! I really loved it. I loved all the details of that other Victorian obsession; fossilized bone. The two women were fantastically draw, especially Mary.

Nicole (Linus's Blanket) said...

I read Jen's review and wanted to run right out and get this book, and here you are adding fuel to the fire. The trailer was interesting, but I am not sure that it would have gotten me to buy the book.

Heather J. said...

Kay - I think you'd really like this one - do give it a shot.

Erika - I didn't want to throw you under the bus by saying you were the one who hated this book, but since you are admitting to it ... LOL I still can't believe that we disagree so widely on this book!

Nicole - I'm a sucker for odd historical stories like this, so that's why the trailer really got me.

atla said...

Wow, I've admired the cover art of this one before, but never really looked at what the book was about. (I'm always hesitant about reading modern authors I've not read before.. not sure why.)

The story sounds fascinating, and I just loved the trailer. I'll be reading this one.. soon!

Susan said...

This book caught my eye a few months ago. I just have too many. But based on my review I think I am going to run not walk to the book store. you sound like me. I like a historical fiction that I actually learn something. Thank you so much for the review.

bermudaonion said...

I won this book and now I'm really curious to see if I think like you or your friend!

Marg said...

I have this book here to read, but haven't been overly inspired to pick it up because of some of the reviews I have read.

The thing with Chevalier is that she is hit and miss for me. I loved Girl With a Pearl Earring but thought her last book was really not good. Hopefully this will be an okay reading experience once I actually get to it.

Stephanie said...

How funny- we JUST learned about Mary Anning in our unit on geology and fossils! I'd never heard of her before, and now you're telling me there's an entire novel about her? Awesome! I'll be keeping an eye out for this! :)

Jen - Devourer of Books said...

That was one of the best historical fiction novels I've read all year for really making me feel that I was in a specific time and place.

Ryan G said...

I've had mixed results with historical fiction so far, but if you like this one so much I may have to give it a chance.

Literary Feline said...

I love books like this and am fascinated by this one now having read your review. I can't say I was too familiar with it before--nor have I read anything by this author. I will definitely be adding this one to my wish list.

Heather J. said...

atla - I hope you give it a try!

Susan - I know the feeling of having too many books on the list, but I'm really glad I made time for this one - I hope you will as well. :)

bermudaonion - You and I don't usually read the same kinds of things so I'd be very interested to see what you think of it.

Marg - This is the first of her books that I've read, but I'll definitely look for others of hers now.

Stephanie - How cool is that?! Don't you love when things work out that way?

Jen - I couldn't agree more.

Ryan G - I know HistFic isn't your thing, but maybe one day you'll find some that works for you ... who knows, this could be it! ;)

Literary Feline - I think you'd really enjoy this one.

Bybee said...

Chevalier had me at "fossils" and "Victorian women"...the juxtaposition was so odd, quirky and likeable. I'm looking forward to reading this book...I'm hoping it'll be a future book club read!

Heather J. said...

Bybee - I think you'd really enjoy this one!

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