Monday, June 26, 2017

Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier

Tracy Chevalier’s  Remarkable Creatures may not be your stereotypical summer read, but it does take place on the beach and is worth packing into your tote with the sunscreen.  (A book set on the beach is one of the Extra Mile Challenges for the VBPL 2017 Reading Marathon--check it out here.  It counts for Summer Reading Challenge, too, of course.)

What’s remarkable besides the creatures of the title is their discoverer:  a girl named Mary Anning.  On the beach in question, at Lyme Regis on the south coast of England, Mary made some of the first discoveries of fossils and skeletons of prehistoric animals such as ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs in the early 1800’s.  She made her first major discovery at the age of 12 and continued working in paleontology throughout her life.  Though little known for many years, she was named in 2010 one of the most influential British women in science by the Royal Society. 

The imagined words of Mary and of her fellow fossil hunter Elizabeth Philpot make up the novel, which touches on controversial issues highlighted by Anning’s scientific discoveries as well as her work and relationships.  The class system and gender roles put Mary at a disadvantage in relation to the scientific community, despite her careful self-taught study and reconstruction of fossilized skeletons.  Also, Mary herself struggles with the contradiction she and others perceive between the existence of dinosaurs and the commonly held view of creation. 

In several of her books, Tracy Chevalier reveals a historical figure through an outside perspective that adds depth to our understanding of people through their relationships as well as their experiences.  Girl with a Pearl Earring, about the artist Vermeer, and Burning Bright, about poet William Blake, take this approach.  You can find these books, as well as the movie version of Girl with a Pearl Earring at your Virginia Beach Public Library.  Remarkable Creatures is available in large print, audiobook, and ebook formats as well as on the Adult Fiction shelves.  Happy beach reading!

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