Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier

I didn’t realize how much I missed reading until I began to read Tracy Chevalier’s historical novel Remarkable Creatures. It was a delight to read such a notable book and I savored every page of it! So here’s my review:

Mary Anning, a young girl from the working class, collects and sells fossils in an effort to earn some income and thus support her family. Since her father’s death, Mary’s family has been struggling financially. Therefore, Mary spends every day on the beach of Lyme Regis, hunting for fossils. But for Mary, fossil hunting isn’t just about earning money – she has a real passion for her discoveries. The residents can’t comprehend Mary’s love for fossils, so she doesn’t have a good reputation in her town. The villagers think of her as an odd girl and their resentment to her becomes even stronger when Mary befriends Elizabeth Philpot, a spinster from London’s upper middle class. However, Mary has never been overly concerned about what others might think of her. Thus, she continues to visit Elizabeth and the two protagonists spend a lot of time together, hunting for fossils, studying their findings and exchanging thoughts on evolution and extinction. Over the years, Mary and Elizabeth have developed a strong bond, despite the fact that there is a 20-year age difference between them. Even though they come from different social backgrounds, their mutual respect and their love for fossils unites them and with Elizabeth’s help, Mary soon makes the most remarkable discoveries, such as ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs. The clever girl has often found ammonite and belemnite shells in the past, but these fossils were common in Lyme Regis, thus they were nothing out of the ordinary. Her latest discoveries however, are the rarest of creatures, arousing the interest of many wealthy collectors, and Mary’s contact with them makes her once again the talk of town. Hence, the curious girl has to deal with gossip, scepticism and chauvinism. Moreover, her friendship with Elizabeth is threatened by jealousy. Will the two manage to overcome any obstacle and save their friendship? Any will Mary finally gain respect for her findings?

Remarkable Creatures is an absorbing and highly accomplished novel about two incredibly strong women who share the same passion and who struggle for recognition in the male dominated world of science in the 19th century. Tracy Chevalier skillfully illustrates how the inspiring protagonists are brought together by their shared obsession. However, this novel is so much more than just about scientific discoveries – it’s a radiant and moving novel about friendship, mutual admiration and jealousy. The author manages to create a mesmerizing setting and her attention to detail is what makes this book a must read for history and geology fans!

Although Remarkable Creatures is a work of fiction, Mary Anning, Elizabeth Philpot and other characters in the book really existed. Bestselling author Tracy Chevalier became inspired by Mary’s fascinating life story while visiting a small museum in England, where she came across some of Anning’s fossil finds. And I’m sure readers are glad that the author made this “remarkable discovery”!

I highly recommend this beautifully written tale to those who like historical novels and who like to read books about exceptional women. I really loved this amazing book because it was very interesting to learn about fossils and to find out that women made such incredible scientific findings. However, Mary and Elizabeth encountered a lot of scepticism and chauvinism because of their love for fossils. Mary Anning’s discoveries were largely overlooked at that time, due to her gender and social status. Her fossil finds were controversial and they raised questions about the history of origins. Mary’s discoveries forced people to look at the world with different eyes and that’s what makes her findings so important!

All in all, I must say that I really enjoyed reading this engaging book. It left me with a fascination for fossils and made me want to read other novels by this outstanding author!

I would like to thank Amanda Walker from Penguin Group for giving me the opportunity to read and to review this great book!

 

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The Children’s Book by A. S. Byatt

The Children's Book by A. S. Byatt

The Children’s Book spans the Victorian Era through the end of World War I and centers around the artistic Wellwood family and their friends.

Olive Wellwood, a popular author of children’s books, lives with her husband Humphry and her seven children in an idyllic cottage where the Wellwoods host Midsummer parties and meet with their artistic friends. On the surface, the Wellwoods seem like the perfect family, but as the novel unfolds, we learn that nothing is quite as it seems. The Wellwoods have many dark secrets, and when these are unveiled, the consequences are damaging for everyone. But Olive and Humphry are not the only ones in this situation, as their friends also seem to have a few skeletons in the closet: unwanted pregnancies, infidelities, illegitimate children and hidden pasts are only a few of them.

Even though the novel is called The Children’s Book and Olive Wellwood is an author of children’s books, this is not a book for children. It’s a novel about the relationship between adults and children, but it’s also a novel about art and creativity and the author skillfully shows us how this creativity and the need and passion to create can destroy both, adults and children.

The Children’s Book is a complex dark novel, which is hard to summarize, since it does not center on a main character, but rather focuses on a large cast of characters. The detailed book gives the reader a social, historical and cultural account of the Victorian and Edwardian Era and it draws a rather disturbing family portrait of that time. A. S. Byatt touches on various themes such as socialism, women’s suffrage, education, pottery and puppetry, but her novel also focuses on subjects such as sexuality and incest.

I have heard so many good things about this book in the past, therefore, I really wanted to read it. Unfortunately, I didn’t like it and I was very disappointed with this novel. I expected this book to be outstanding and in my opinion, it was not. I know that The Children’s Book has been greeted with praise by many critics and readers, but I couldn’t bring myself to enjoy it. The author has introduced too many characters in her novel and thus, the reader easily becomes overwhelmed and cannot fully connect with them. Furthermore, the book contains too much background information on the characters and the author provides us with too much historical information and with too many comments on ideologies and political events. The Children’s Book is told in excessive detail and the author feels the need to describe everything to the reader, from clothing to meals and puppet shows, and thus, these descriptions detract from the story. I also didn’t like the themes presented in this book; I suppose I am too conservative, but there is too much talk about sex / sexuality / sexual desires in this novel. I disliked reading about subjects such as adultery, secret parentages, illegitimate children, pornographic pottery (which reveals acts of incest) and other bizarre things. All in all, I think that the book is too disturbing and sickening for my taste. I am sure that other readers will like this book and even think that it’s excellent and masterly, but in my opinion, its themes are too revolting and the novel is overloaded with information and focuses on too many characters.

I would like to thank Knopf Publishers for sending me a copy of this book.