Thursday, May 12, 2011

Remarkable creatures

May's reading group book was Remarkable creatures by Tracy Chevalier, and the first group book I can remember which was universally enjoyed - everyone gave it either 8 or 8.5 out of 10. Normally we have massive differences of opinion!

It's a good read. It's about two women in the 19th century, Elizabeth Philpot and Mary Anning, who become friends, despite the difference in their age and class. A lot of the action concerns the fossils they both find on the beach at Lyme Regis, but it doesn't come across as dry and scientific. It's quite exciting as they make discoveries and challenge the status quo - finding fossils that are clearly not currently living creatures and thus challenging both scientific ideas up 'til then and also the idea that God created a static world that didn't change or evolve. Much is also made of the difficulties of being a woman then - neither marries, which to a certain extent gives them some freedom, but both are constrainted by what society thinks is the right way to behave. There are some appalling moments, such as when Elizabeth is refused entry to the Geological Society of London, because she is a woman, yet she and Mary are the ones who have made the discoveries that the men just do not see at first. Men don't come out of this too well! The class divides are emphasised too, Mary's working class family are frequently  not far from being in the workhouse and have a very precarious existence for much of the novel, in contrast to the better off, who are portrayed as rather frivolous (most of them don't have the interest or the intellect to understand what the women have found).

Oh, and the best bit? It's all basically true. Some bits are unknown and embellished to make a good novel, but the basic outline is completely true.

Next month's book is The Help by Kathryn Stockett.


Mary Anne said...

A very informative review, thank you. I'm going to see if I can find it at our library.

erasercarver said...

Sounds like a good read - another one for the library list :)

Mary Anne said...

I think someone stole my comment! Never mind, I'll say it again: This sounds like a most interesting book and thank you for the great review. I'll look for it at my local library.

Anonymous said...

Dear Daisy: I saw your post on ravely. I posted a reply. I read Remarkable Creatures also. I am a huge fan of Tracy's books. Right now she's working on a book about a quilter. I saw a small video about on the Victoria and Albert Museum website. She's looking at quilts for ideas. I started reading, A Vintage Affair by Isabel Wolff. I love this book! I lerned so much about the vintage clothing trade. My favorite is Madam Gres. I like your blog.