While it details their remarkable discoveries, the true focus of the tale is their unlikely friendship. The narrative alternates between Mary and Elizabeth’s first-person accounts of events. Both their voices are clearly defined, distinct, and draw the reader back over two hundred years to the south coast of England.
In her sixth novel, Chevalier uses her characteristic blend of fact and fiction to tell us another story of a woman who has been pushed to the edge of history. Mary Anning found ichthyosaurs, plesiosaurs, and the first complete pterodactyl in Great Britain but remains a relatively obscure figure, a footnote in the contemporary scientific papers written by men. As usual, Chevalier puts together an enthralling mixture of fact and fiction with skill, including plot elements which would not be out of place in an Austen novel (appropriate given that the narrative’s events are contemporary with Austen’s writings).
A tangible sense of time and place
Chevalier has an enviable gift for creating a tangible sense of time and place. Her descriptions make it easy for the reader to imagine themselves down on the cold beach with Mary and Elizabeth, digging through the clay for dinosaurs.
The narrative only dragged slightly in two places, both times when the plot paused for longer descriptions of matters geological and paleontological. That said, if I’d done the research the author clearly put into this book, I’d have wanted to get some of this information in too. Besides, we’re talking about a couple of pages. Chevalier never treats us to the types of in-book essays Melville included in Moby Dick.
One for established Chevalier fans and a good place to start for everyone else
If you enjoyed Girl With A Pearl Earring or any other Chevalier’s other books then I am sure you will enjoy Remarkable Creatures. And if you haven’t read anything by her yet, then I encourage you to add it to you TBR list.