*** About the Book ***
In the early 1800s in the English coast town of Lyme Regis, young Mary Anning helps support her family by finding “curies” on the beach. These “curies” (short for “curiosities”) are actually fossils and Mary is fascinated with them. Despite her poor, working class status, she becomes the local expert on fossils – much to the despair of her family – and spends the majority of her time on the beach searching for them. One day Mary discovers something different: a complete, intact skeleton. At first everyone thinks it is the remains of a giant crocodile but Mary and several others soon realize that this is a new creature, never before seen by man.
This time period is one of great upheaval in the geological community. The concepts of an ancient earth and of extinction have rattled both the religious community and many intellectuals. This novel looks at that history through the eyes of Mary and also of Elizabeth, a middle-class spinster fascinated by fossil fish.
*** Why I Read It ***
I first heard about this book back in November 2009 when The Book Case posted the trailer for it. I watched that trailer and was COMPLETELY HOOKED by the author’s words. I’m posting it here and I’d love to know what you think of it.
I've been on my library's wait list for this audiobook for months so I was thrilled when it was finally my turn to check it out.
*** My Thoughts ***
In my opinion, this is an example of excellent historical fiction.
I was sucked into the story from the very start and thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. It’s one of those books that made me not want to get out of the car, ever. (In fact I spent several of my lunch breaks eating in my car so I could continue to listen to the audiobook.)
I was fascinating by the history of fossil hunting and the way accepted “facts” about fossils were beginning to change. The newly developing ideas of an ancient earth, the concept of extinction, the budding conflict between religion and science – all these topics were fascinating to me. Then there was the situation of women in society, the class distinctions, the concepts of property and propriety … there was just so much in this book that I loved!
Not only did enjoy the writing and the characters and the narration, but when I got to the end and found out how closely this book is based on fact I was beyond excited. This is the kind of historical fiction I truly love – the kind where I learn tons of facts not just about a time and place but about real people who really lived, all couched in a story that keeps me entranced all the way through.
*** The Real History ***
Tracy Chevalier includes an excellent, detailed author’s note at the end of this book. She explains that all the main characters in this book actually existed and that the vast majority of the book is based on fact. Of course she had to fill in a lot of the details, but Mary and Elizabeth DID actually discover all the fossils discussed in the book, and Mary DID actually work with many of the leading geological minds of the day. She explains that she did truncate time somewhat, in order to make the book flow better, but all the most important facts in the book are based on reality.
*** Your Thoughts ***
I know not everyone will agree with me on this book. When I mentioned on Twitter how much I was enjoying it, a friend sent me the following private message: “That book bored me to tears, and I normally love boring, literary books.” When I expressed my shock she followed up with “Oh, her writing is always beautiful. I just thought there wasn't enough plot for a novel. Would have made a great short story.” See? And I loved every second of this book!
Here are a few other reviews I’ve found:
- GalleyCat enjoyed the characterization in this book
- Devourer of Books warns that it might ruin you for other historical fiction
- S. Krishna’s Books calls this enjoyable and well written
What did YOU think of this book? If you haven’t read it, does it appeal to you?