Remarkable Creatures – Tracy Chevalier

This is, unfortunately, my least favorite kind of book review to write.  I read Remarkable Creatures, I liked it, but there is little to nothing that I will take away from this book after reading it.  I hope that by the end of this review I sort out whether this is a problem with me or with the novel, because at this point I can’t be sure.

On the one hand, this is a completely unique tale that is fairly accurate to history (as far as I can tell).  The plot concerns the life of Mary Anning and her friend Elizabeth Philpot.  Mary has long had a talent for finding fossils on the beach of Lyme Regis in England in the 1800s, and Elizabeth, recently moved from London to the small seaside town takes an interest in the hobby as well.  The history of Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot is interesting not only from a scientific point of view, but also because the exploration of women’s place in society during this time period is endlessly fascinating.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t occupy enough of the book.  I think that Remarkable Creatures could have been more interesting if it didn’t change narrators throughout – I found Elizabeth’s voice to be annoying and unnecessary.  A story told directly from Mary’s point of view would have been more interesting in my opinion, though I understand the technical reasons for including her.  I also thought that the book could have used pictures.  There are so many fossils described that I really would have appreciated photographs or drawings to accompany the novel.  Not only would that have helped me to understand better what was being described, but it would have made for a lovely edition of the book.

But the truth is that I kept reading this book and didn’t dislike it, I just didn’t particularly love it either.  It could have been so much more interesting, or at the very least 100 pages shorter.  I think that turning this story into a novel didn’t do much of a service to the story, other than bringing it to more readers.  I would have rather just read a non-fiction book about Mary and Elizabeth.  So is that a problem with this novel or with my general dissatisfaction for historical fiction?  I’m not sure.  A lot of people have really loved this novel and here I am left feeling so meh! about it.  I did enjoy that Chevalier included a bibliography at the end of the book and will probably be reading more about Mary Anning in the future.

So go read this!: now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve exhausted your TBR pile

Other reviews: Devourer of Books, Literate Housewife, My Fluttering Heart, Age 30+… A Lifetime of Books, S. Krishna’s Books, The Girl from the Ghetto.

10 thoughts on “Remarkable Creatures – Tracy Chevalier

  1. I’ve never read Tracy Chevalier. I’m guessing this isn’t the one to start with?

    btw, I sent you an email but I can never remember which is your correct email address. Gah! I should just learn to DM you on twitter instead…

  2. Interesting, I’ve only read one Chevalier novel and really enjoyed it. I’ve seen some great reviews of this book, but she has so many books that maybe I’ll read something else next and save this one for later!

    1. Amy: I don’t know if the flaw was with the book or with me, so if you’ve liked her books in the past, I’d still recommend it!

  3. Books that leave us feeling “meh” are definitely the most difficult to write. Most recently, I finished Short Girls by Bich Minh Nguyen and had pretty much that reaction… there were things I liked and things I didn’t, but I didn’t feel strongly either way. It’s strange.

    1. Meg: I don’t like writing them either. I’d much rather write about a book I had strong feelings about, one way or another!

  4. I felt the same way about Girl with a Pearl Earring. Not that I disliked it, but when I got through reading it I could hardly remember a single thing about it. It didn’t have any flavor. :/

    1. Jenny: I don’t read much historical fiction, so I can’t say if it’s Tracy Chevalier or if it’s me. But I agree, definitely no flavor here either.

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