How about some interesting historical fiction to start off the new year? Well, best selling author Tracy Chevalier is back with a novel set in 19th century England, full of fossils and friendship.
Tracy Chevalier's "Remarkable Creatures" focuses on two historical women--Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot, and tries to flesh out the historical accounts of the lives of these women that exists in the scientific record. The book begins when Philpot has just moved to the town of Lyme Regis, and first meets Anning. Philpot, in her late 20s, is already a spinster, and moving to Lyme from London gives her the freedom to pursue her unladylike passion for fossils. Anning has a natural gift for fossil hunting, and Philpot is quickly drawn to her. Over the next two decades these women will develop a close bond and make many fossil discoveries together. But will a force bigger than themselves--love or fame--eventually draw them apart?
In "Remarkable Creatures" Chevalier has done a good job of taking real historical figures and crafting an interesting story around them. I had never heard of either Anning or Philpot, but I actually had seen some of the collections of fossils they contributed to at the British Museum. The novel quickly introduces you to these two women and their world, and does a good job of helping you to see the world through their eyes. I thought the most interesting dynamic of the story was how the men treated Philpot and Anning, especially how they were considered just "hunters" not real scientists because they were women. Some of the novel, particularly the love stories and jealousy did seem a bit forced, but not so much so that they ruined the rest of the story.
I would recommend this book to readers interested in women's lives during the early 19th century and to general fans of historical fiction. It was well done and an interesting quick read.