"Remarkable Creatures" - Tracy Chevalier - 2010
I've read all of Tracy Chevalier's novels, beginning with her most famous novel "Girl with a Pearl Earring" which was made into a beautiful looking film starring my favorite Darcy, Colin Firth. My favorite Chevalier novel still remains, despite several novels following, "The Virgin Blue" - it's tragic family lingers with me - and it flips between a contemporary and historical setting so you're constantly attentive to the characters.
Her books focus on actual historical figures, William Blake in "Burning Bright," fossil hunter Mary Anning in the newest novel, "Remarkable Creatures" and of course, Johannes Vermeer, but sometimes an object: a painting, tapestry or a cemetery headstone inspires the story. I'm not sure if the author found Mary Anning or her dinosaurs more interesting. One thing is for sure, without the fossils, Miss Anning would have been another poor girl forgotten to history. And at the same time it's pretty amazing a poor girls' hard work was recognized by the leading scientific figures of her day. The author's other main character, Elizabeth Philpot also a real person, known for her fossil fish collection and lived in the same town as Mary, but as far as I understand, due primarily to class differences, their friendship is most likely entirely fiction.
I enjoyed the biographical aspects of the story, learning more about the early days of fossil finding in Lyme Regis, England. Which just so happens to be the setting of the "French Lieutenant's Woman," Mary Anning's shop is mentioned in fact, so it was nice to revisit and learn more of the landscape.
As for the novel itself, the story moves slowly, the author's afterword actually talks about the limits of a reader's patience. It reads more like a biography, and the problem lies in forgetting this is a work of historical fiction. I love Chevalier's writing, but this story lacks something found in her earlier novels. Some element of mystery, I suppose, despite tides and landslips it felt that the ladies reputations were in greater danger than their lives. I could have used a bit more of a love story as well, even if the only choice was to end in heartache. The book was good and interesting, but average, missing that special something that resonates with you after the book is closed.