After my last date with Tracy Chavelier via Burning Bright was disappointing, I was hesitant to pick up Remarkable Creatures. If you’re not familiar with her, she burst onto the literary scene several (many?) years ago with her second novel, Girl with a Pearl Earring. This was one of my very first book club discussion / reads, and I loved it! (Both book & discussion.) She writes historical fiction, most notably telling the tale surrounding how a notable piece of art came to be.
In Remarkable Creatures, she takes on paleontology and tells the story behind the young girl, a fossil collector, who was responsible for discovering several new species of dinosaurs via their skeletons. Mary Anning was a girl of just 14 when she discovered her first full skeleton of an ichthyosaurus. The most renown scientists of the day seek her out, either to hunt with her or to buy her finds.
What made this a wonderful read for me is that Chevalier explores both religion and gender in her story, religion in that the Christian thought-leaders of the day felt it was heresy to purport that extinct animals exist (this would imply that God makes mistakes) and gender in that Mary does not get a fair shake at credit for what she did because she was a girl. The gender gap is further complicated as some of the male scientists who claim Mary’s work as their own assert that they do so in order that her work will be recognized, claiming that no reputable museum would give merit to a find by a woman.
In the postscript Chevalier offers the conclusion of Mary Anning and distinguishes the parts of her story that were fact and from the fiction. I recommend this as one of my favorite Chevalier novels.
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