Tracy Chevalier is the author of ten novels, including At the Edge of the Orchard, Remarkable Creatures and Girl with a Pearl Earring, an international bestseller that has sold over five million copies and won the Barnes and Noble Discover Award. Born in Washington DC, in 1984 she moved to London, where she lives with her husband and son.
Chevalier's newest is a flat historical whose familiar themes of gender inequality, class warfare and social power often overwhelm the story. Tart-tongued spinster Elizabeth Philpot meets young Mary Anning after moving from London to the coastal town of Lyme Regis. The two quickly form an unlikely friendship based on their mutual interest in finding fossils, which provides the central narrative as working-class Mary emerges from childhood to become a famous fossil hunter, with her friend and protector Elizabeth to defend her against the men who try to take credit for Mary's finds. Their friendship, however, is tested when Colonel Birch comes to Lyme to ask for Mary's help in hunting fossils and the two spinsters compete for his attention. While Chevalier's exploration of the plight of Victorian-era women is admirable, Elizabeth's fixation on her status as an unmarried woman living in a gossipy small town becomes monotonous, and Chevalier slows the story by dryly explaining the relative importance of different fossils. Chevalier's attempt to imagine the lives of these real historical figures makes them seem less remarkable than they are. (Jan.) Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.
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 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'
`An enthralling novel of female friendship and fossil
Woman and Home
`An extraordinary tale about two 19th century women who attempt
to alter ideas about creationism with their discoveries of dinosaur
`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'
In early 1800s England, unmarried women of the upper classes were often relegated to the fringes of society, where they could find a polite way to spend their days; those of the lower classes had even fewer options. This work, based on a true story, portrays two women from these diverse backgrounds who share a fascination with fossils. Mary Anning is an impoverished girl with a gift for finding prehistoric skeletons along the coast, which also interest genteel spinster Elizabeth Philpot. She recognizes Mary's talent as she also understands the enormous implications of the specimens uncovered, for this was before Darwin, when the concept of extinction was unknown, and it was blasphemous to consider that some of God's creatures may have been flawed. Over time, both women strive for scientific credibility, love, and financial stability, with varying degrees of success. Verdict Superbly creating a unique setting, as she did in The Girl with a Pearl Earring, Chevalier captures the atmosphere of a chilly, blustery coast and an oppressive social hierarchy in real Dickensian fashion. Readers of historical fiction will enjoy this fascinating tale of rustic paleontology. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 9/1/09.]-Susanne Wells, P.L. of Cincinnati & Hamilton Cty. Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.