Tracey Chevalier's Remarkable Creatures is set in Lyme, in the early nineteenth century, where Mary Anning, the young daughter of a impoverished cabinetmaker and fossil hunter, meets Elizabeth Philpot, a well-bred spinster in reduced circumstances who has moved to Lyme with her two sisters. Mary searches for fossils 'on beach' to sell them to gentleman scholars, Elizabeth takes up collecting fossil fish as an eccentric, inappropriate hobby, and the two women form and fall out of friendship through their shared interests. When she is only twelve, Mary uncovers the fossil of an ichthyosaur, a previously unknown animal, and she becomes a self-taught but remarkable fossilist, gradually earning respect and support of the men who dismissed her at first as a female, a 'worker' and a 'spare part.' The novel also touches on the role of science in a world governed by religion, the doors open and closed to women, and the disturbing new idea of extinction.
I'm still always surprised when I finish a book that I hadn't expected to interest me very much, and I find that I've been engaged with the story from the first page to the last. (That's just the sign of a very good writer.) I do think listening to Remarkable Creatures as an audiobook contributed to this a lot. The book is written in alternating first-person narratives, and the two readers who took the parts of Mary Anning (glottal, romantic, excitable) and Elizabeth Philpot (resigned, polished, thoughtful, wry) in very different voices performed very well.
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