#192 ~ Remarkable Creatures ~ Review & ARC Giveaway

Cover of Remarkable Creatures

Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier

Elizabeth, along with her sisters Louise and Margaret, as unmarried daughters of the Philpot family, must relocate from London when their only brother becomes engaged.  This was not spoken of upfront, but implied as they were offered the opportunity to spend the summer looking at different seaside communities.  They would have 150 pounds per year on which to live and they would be much more comfortable in a less expensive location outside of London.  When Elizabeth found her first fossil on the beach at Lyme Regis, she knew that is where she wanted to live.  Luckily, her sisters were in agreement.  It was then that the Philpot spinsters moved into Morley cottage.  Elizabeth’s keen interest in fossils and natural history brought her into contact with the Anning family.  Richard Anning, a cabinet maker, also sold fossils – or curies – to supplement the family’s income. Mary, his oldest daughter, had the same passion for curies that Elizabeth did, but she lacked the education behind it.  Although Mary was many years younger than Elizabeth and from a much lower class, the two became friends who enjoyed hunting for curies on the beach.  Both of their lives changed when Mary’s brother found the fossilized remains of what is now known as the first ichthyosaurs in the cliffs around Lyme Regis.  Their joint interest pulled them together, but eventually tore them apart when educated men from around England began to call on Mary her skills.  Jealousy and resentment became a stumbling block for them both.

Mary Anning's Plesiosaurs

Mary Anning's Plesiosaurs

During Elizabeth and Mary’s lifetime, the widely held belief by society was that God created the earth and all of its creatures once and that it remained as is since the beginning.  This meant that all animals that existed at that time existed for the entirety of earth’s history.  More importantly, since all that God created was perfect, it was not possible that He would allow any of his creatures to become extinct.  This concerned Elizabeth from the beginning and it was frustrating to her to have no one to discuss the implications of her fossils, either large or small.  At the same time, there was something the general public found eery about curies and, as a result, both Elizabeth and Mary were considered strange.  Their interest and delight in fossils set them apart.  People did not want to be closely associated with them and, as Elizabeth found out, her preoccupation could cost her sister a potential engagement.  They were also both frustrated by the lack of opportunity for their sex.  In pre-Victorian England, women were viewed as incapable of intellectual pursuits.  Scientific men like William Buckland and Georges Cuvier came or sent others looking for Mary  Anning’s help in hunting out and buying her curies, but Mary was often not given credit for the discovery, the collector was.  This caused Mary much sorrow and fueled Elizabeth with so much indignation that she found herself confronting men publically in ways she never through she was capable.  It was at those times that I finally began to love her character and understand the weight Elizabeth carried on her shoulders.

Ichthyosaurus Skull

Ichthyosaurus Skull

When I picked up Remarkable Creatures and began reading, I didn’t do any research.  I hadn’t realized at the time that Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot are actual historical figures who lived in Lyme Regis.  I wish I had pictures in front of me of the huge fossils Mary Anning found in the cliffs surrounding Lyme Regis as I was reading.  Seeing them after reading the novel was awe-inspiring.  I cannot imagine uncovering such things when there was no such thing as dinosaurs.  How very thrilling and unnerving that must have been!  Perhaps if those fossils had not been found and preserved had Mary and Elizabeth not been involved the discovery would have been made by others, but it is equally likely that they might not.  The suspicion and superstition surrounding curies at that time and all that they called into question could have led to their destruction.  Despite all that we have learned about natural history since the 19th century, Elizabeth Philpot’s questions about how scientific knowledge and religious belief can coexist are still relavent today – 150 years since the publication of Charles Darwin‘s On the Origin of Species.  This novel is sure to spark some interesting book club discussions.

Tracy Chevalier is an author I am sure to watch because she chooses diverse and interesting subject matter.  Her Postscript added even more to her portrait of Mary’s skill and vulnerability and Elizabeth’s convictions and strength.  It will never cease to amaze me how small things come together to make up something great.  Elizabeth needed Mary’s lack of concern for what Lyme Regis thought of her and what she was doing while Mary needed Elizabeth’s access and influence in the greater society.  Mary needed Elizabeth’s knowledge and intellectual interest in fossils and Elizabeth needed Mary’s aptitude for caring for the curies once they were found.

Reading Remarkable Creatures was like lazily looking for fish fossils along the beach and then looking up to the cliffs and noticing something unfamiliar and spectacular.  It built gradually for me.  I wasn’t sure where the story was going until it hit me out of the blue.  Once I started chiseling away that large monster, I was hooked.  It is a novel about friendship, jealousy, the role of women, and the joy of discovery.  The story has a slower pace and is more subtle than my favorites such as The Lady and the Unicorn, The Virgin Blue, and Falling Angels.  I enjoyed Remarkable Creatures just as muchfor what I learned along the way and what it prompted me to explore after I finished.  You really owe it to yourself to read this novel if you enjoy reading about 19th century England, Jane Austen, and natural history.  I can see Mary Anning becoming a beloved heroine for young women, especially those interested in pursuing the sciences.  I am so thankful that Chevalier introduced me to her.

If you live in the UK, Remarkable Creatures will be released this Monday, August 25th (lucky you!).  For those of you living in the US, you will have to wait until January 10, 2010 – unless enter my contest and are the lucky winner! See details below.


Many thanks to Kate at HarperCollins UK for sending me this novel for an early review!  It made my day to receive her email.

We were both hoping that it would arrive in July.  When it hadn’t arrived before my vacation she sent another copy hoping that I would receive it before I left.  Unfortunately, both copies arrived while I was in Michigan.  My vacation’s loss, however, could be your gain!

Leave a comment here with your thoughts about the relationship between science and religious belief and you’ll be entered in my contest for the second unread ARC copy of Remarkable Creatures.  This contest is open to one and all.  Tweet about this giveaway for a second entry (just be sure to reply to @lithousewife in your tweet).

This contest will be open until Saturday, September 12.  I’ll post the winner on September 13th.

Good luck!!!!


You can pre-order this novel, by clicking here.

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  • At 2009.08.22 12:19, Lisa Sheppard said:

    Arrgghh–January? I was completely ready to rush out and buy this as I was reading your review. This is actually a subject with discuss a lot at my house as my son completely sees creation from a scientific point of view and I’m one that is always trying to reconcile the two points of view.

    • At 2009.08.22 12:21, Carey said:

      Now I want to read this, after that great review! I’m impressed that the UK publisher would send to the US.

      My Dad is a scientist – PHD and everything – and also a deeply religious man. According to him, science easily fits into the Christian faith, you just have to understand Physics! He explained it to me, but I confess that most of it went over my head. 🙂 It is a complex subject, but very interesting.

      • At 2009.08.22 12:25, Amanda said:

        I’m reading this review at a very appropriate time in my life. I’ve been researching a great deal about the scientific and religious viewpoints of creation and how and if they can be reconciled with one another. I was brought up in a rather religiously conservative household but my views have changed greatly as I have grown up and learned about other viewpoints. I now look at it from a scientific point of view. THis book sounds very interesting and I love Chevalier’s other novels.



        • At 2009.08.22 12:28, Carey said:

          I tweeted! – Forgot to “say please enter me” in my earlier post. Thanks for a great giveaway!

          • At 2009.08.22 12:58, Just Mom said:

            I love Tracy Chevalier – I’ve only read two so far – Girl with the Pearl earring and Burning Bright but they were both great. Please enter me to win.

            I think that the study of science leads one to the knowledge of the sacred. As I learn about the amazing world we live in, I see God’s hand at work because creation is beauty beyond happenstance and chance.

            • At 2009.08.22 13:38, Jennifer said:

              There are a few religious beliefs that can be backed up with a scientific explanation, but there are a lot that science contradicts. Because of this, it’s hard for me to believe in both.

              I find the premise of this book interesting and would love the opportunity to win a copy. Thanks so much!

              • At 2009.08.22 13:43, Lezlie said:

                This looks really interesting! I’ll throw my name in that hat! 🙂


                • At 2009.08.22 14:49, Heidi said:

                  I am so disappointed to learn we’ll have to wait a bit for this book. I love it that Chevalier has chosen to explore intelligent and feisty women, but also to remind readers that science has been threatening religious thought/belief/practice for centuries. I find this mystifying; why must they be ‘reconciled’ or be seen as mutually exclusive? Can’t wait to see how Chevalier presents this! Thanks so much for reviewing it!

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                  • At 2009.08.22 15:04, Wanda said:

                    I think their is still a lot to be learned about the relationship between science and religion and I find the whole thing fascinating. I would love to win this book! wandanamgreb (at) gmail (dot) com

                    • At 2009.08.22 16:22, Amanda said:

                      I think that science and religion can go hand in hand. Nothing has to be one or the other. I love everything I have read by Tracy Chevalier.

                      • At 2009.08.22 18:46, caite said:

                        I believe that God is the author of Truth, and the Creator, so if we understand science and religion correctly, they must agree. I see to problem at all..Truth is truth.

                        and it is very true that I would love to win this book..

                        • At 2009.08.22 18:49, Kathy said:

                          I believe in both! I think God created a world that has evolved. You’ve made the book sound fantastic!

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                          • At 2009.08.22 21:45, Lisa Jemus said:

                            Thank you so much for hosting this giveaway! And what a stellar review!

                            I would love to win this book, totally up my alley in every way. Anyway, I believe that science is finally beginning to embrace some more “religious” aspects that it cannot “prove” such as the power of prayer, but I am not sure that very conservative religious organizations are doing the same about science. I was raised a Catholic and am quite liberal in general, and believe that the two can co-exist quite well. But that’s in MY world! 🙂 I’ve added this book to my wishlist! circlebooks(at)shaw(dot)ca

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                            • At 2009.08.22 21:49, Lisa Jemus said:

                              I have also tweeted about it here: http://twitter.com/ljemus
                              And I put your giveaway in my sidebar on my blog!

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                              • At 2009.08.22 23:03, Jennifer said:

                                Thanks for sharing your thoughts, everyone! I appreciate and respect everyone’s thoughts about this. It certainly can make an interesting conversation.

                                I grew up in a Catholic home, so I don’t have the concerns that many people may have who take the Bible literally. I believe that there is always something new to learn about God and, in cases like this, science is revealing them. Jesus taught in parables and that is how I look at the Creation story. It is a story in which God explains that He created the world and it is good. I don’t take the 6 days literally nor do I believe that using stories to teach is lying. It requires us to use our imaginations to look at all aspects of what is being taught – and I know that Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot needed every bit of their imaginations when they uncovered their curies. I’ve grown up with pictures of dinosaurs and cannot imagine what it would have been like to find the first one!

                                Many thanks to everyone who has tweeted and posted about the contest. I’ve got your extra entries noted.

                                • At 2009.08.22 23:18, Oh said:

                                  Hmmm…well…it’s taken years to work this out because I always held that the christianity in which I was raised (presbyterian) was true and separate from the science I learned along the way. I always allowed the two worlds to co-exist.
                                  Over the years, they have joined hands in making sense; however, my spirituality has broadened, my understanding of “story” has broadened, and science and the Bible easily hold hands now with the former being the facts and the latter being the analogy/parable/perspective of those who decided how to write down the facts.

                                  We find our way in all the things we were taught and science does not have to exclude religion, nor vice versa.

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                                    • At 2009.08.23 11:09, austenfan said:

                                      Please enter me! 🙂

                                      Well, there are things that sometimes can’t be explained by religion, which can be explained by science and vice versa. But I think they go hand in hand.


                                      • At 2009.08.23 14:07, CherylS22 said:

                                        Tough question! It’s always a struggle to mesh science & religion. I believe they both have a place in the discussion.

                                        • At 2009.08.23 15:03, Valerie said:

                                          This look quite interesting and I would love to win!

                                          • […] ~ Win Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier at The Literate Housewife Review. […]

                                            • At 2009.08.23 18:22, Carrie K. said:

                                              I loved Chevalier’s Burning Bright, and I would love to read this one.

                                              I don’t believe that faith and science are mutually exclusive – I believe that they can exist together.

                                              nnjmom at yahoo dot com

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                                              • At 2009.08.23 18:39, nomadreader said:

                                                I live in the U.S., and Tracy Chevalier is my favorite author; I’m dying to read this new book. I hope I win so I don’t have to wait so many more months to read it!

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                                                • At 2009.08.23 23:32, melanie said:

                                                  Religion and science shouldn’t oppose each other at all – they answer, and they ask different questions!

                                                  I’d love to read this…… I loved Falling Angels, especially.
                                                  thank you for holding the contest!

                                                  • At 2009.08.24 12:29, Barbara S. said:

                                                    I personally have never truly understood the conflict between a religious perspective and a scientific perspective of the development and evolution of the earth. I see how the two integrate and can support one another. I guess I take a more flexible perspective on this even though I am a very religious person.

                                                    This book sounds intriguing. I would love to read it. Count me in the giveaway.

                                                    • At 2009.08.24 12:32, Barbara S said:
                                                      • At 2009.08.24 12:34, Jennifer said:

                                                        I would very much like to read this novel and appreciate the chance. As a scientist and a Christian, I believe there is room for both. And I truly have not understood the conflict. although I know it certainly does exist. Evolution exists, science backs that up. *shrug*

                                                        • At 2009.08.24 14:35, Sue said:

                                                          I’m religious and a scientist and think there’s room for both. Some people believe both can’t coexist, but I think they support one another.

                                                          Thanks for the giveaway.
                                                          smickelson1993 at yahoo dot com

                                                          • At 2009.08.24 19:55, Debb said:

                                                            My belief out weighs the science… but, science has a point… I try not to think about it … we all need to believe in some “higher power”…

                                                            • At 2009.08.25 12:01, Amanda said:

                                                              What a fascinating book idea! I love it! And I do think that religion and science can work together. I don’t believe in straight evolution…such as man came from monkeys, but I do think that God made creatures (and man) with the ability to adapt and change to better live in it’s environment. And survival of the fittest is often the case. Although that can’t always be said with man, wars being a great example. Hope that made some sort of sense! The coffee is just now kicking in. 🙂

                                                              • At 2009.08.25 22:56, Beth said:

                                                                Science Vs Religion is something that has been pondered over centuries. My 5 yr old asked me why God would put the dinosaurs with the people. How do you explain the unexplanable?
                                                                Please enter me.

                                                                lizzi0915 at aol dot com.

                                                                • At 2009.08.26 09:22, diane said:

                                                                  This sounds great. Please count me in:

                                                                  dd DOT bookgoddess AT gmail DOT com


                                                                  • At 2009.08.26 16:18, Nymeth said:

                                                                    I love Tracy Chevalier, and I absolutely love the sound of this book! The subject matter really interests me, and I bet I’ll learn a lot too. I’ll have to stay out of the giveaway, though, as my new set of control-the-tbr rules doesn’t allow me to enter 😛 Thanks for the fabulous review!

                                                                    • At 2009.08.26 16:55, Ambika said:

                                                                      Wow the book really looks promising! I’m an earth science student and i’ve had this same talk with many people. I’m also a women, and its true that in geology usually the men get all the credit even if you did all the hard work..
                                                                      Please count me in the contest!

                                                                      • At 2009.08.29 05:14, Shawna Lewis said:

                                                                        Shawna Lewis

                                                                        You know, I think you can fit both together and learn alot!!! Alot of people close off their minds to one or the other depending what the”believe”. In order to get the most out of learning I think one must open one’s mind to all information given in writing & in speech. Until we do that how can you understand the link between these two things or choose between them.

                                                                        Thanks for this chance to win I oh so want to read this book!!!

                                                                        • At 2009.08.29 05:15, Shawna Lewis said:
                                                                          • At 2009.08.30 19:37, S. Krishna said:

                                                                            I don’t think science and religious belief are mutually exclusive. I think you can be a scientist, or believe in the veracity of science, and still have strong religious beliefs. It’s all about how you interpret it.

                                                                            Thanks for the giveaway! skrishna [at] skrishnasbooks [dot] com

                                                                            • At 2009.08.30 19:50, Julia said:

                                                                              Well, I think the two are mutually compatible. Answers in Genesis ministries does an excellent job of showing how science supports what the Bible says. Please enter me for this book.
                                                                              avonleajules (at) gmail (dot) com

                                                                              • At 2009.09.01 16:16, Zoe said:

                                                                                I’m writing this just 2 miles from where Mary Anning grew up! We’re on holiday down near Lyme and tomorrow (weather permitting) we’re off fossil hunting with my girls. I had wanted to buy this book for my holiday reading but seeing the stack I’ve already got I was good and haven’t yet spent the money… maybe this will be my lucky break! Once we’re back from holiday I’ll be reviewing Stone Girl Bone Girl (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Stone-Girl-Bone-Story-Anning/dp/1845077008/ref=pd_sim_b_1), a kids’ book about Mary Anning on my blog (Playing by the book – http://www.kuvik.net/ztoft/playingbythebook/) and it would be rather cool to have a matching book for mum to read and review!

                                                                                • At 2009.09.03 11:45, Martina said:

                                                                                  Being brought up a Christian, I have a hard time thinking that ‘science’ has anything to do with creation, etc. I’m always open to discussion, though. I love hearing reasons/arguments for other peoples beliefs. It keeps a person thinking!

                                                                                  Tracy Chevalier is one of my fave authors, so I cannot wait to read this one!

                                                                                  martina_ck AT shaw DOT ca

                                                                                  • At 2009.09.04 21:45, Sarah Z said:

                                                                                    I know they say you have to have scientific proof – but I think that some things are unexplainable and people should believe what makes them feel at peace!

                                                                                    • At 2009.09.07 13:00, madeleine said:

                                                                                      Please enter me in this GREAT giveaway….thank-you!


                                                                                      • At 2009.09.07 13:02, madeleine said:

                                                                                        I tweeted this giveaway


                                                                                        • At 2009.09.07 14:41, Julie Enyeart said:

                                                                                          I used to talk about science and religion so much more when I was in grad school. Now that I’m away from there, I find my critical analysis type discussions have become fewer and farther apart. Hoping this book could jumpstart some provocative thinking for me!

                                                                                          • At 2009.09.09 16:48, Amy said:

                                                                                            I was raised in a strict catholic household to believe that God created the world. When I got older I read about science’s role in creation which led to some sleepless nights and lots of thought. I think the two can be reconciled. I married a man who believes completely in creation as a product of science and only science. I’m still thinking about it. I would love to read this book to see its view on creation and so much more.

                                                                                            Thank you for a great giveaway!


                                                                                            • At 2009.09.09 16:53, Amy said:
                                                                                              • At 2009.09.10 19:17, Strangelove said:

                                                                                                Well, Religion is a representation of the knowledge as it was thousands of years ago.
                                                                                                Science is the knowledge today.
                                                                                                The first must learn not to take it’s words so literally in order to be able to have a meaning and to be credible today, when people have more information on their hands.
                                                                                                Religion can admit there are mistakes in their texts and find similarities between what is metaforicly written and modern day science/knowledge.
                                                                                                That way, both can be united.

                                                                                                • At 2009.09.12 16:48, Jemima said:

                                                                                                  This is a very interesting question. I don’t think that science is infallible and has the answer to everything, because of it’s history. It is always changing and developing and I can’t help but wonder what we take as fact today that will be dissproven tomorrow. As to religion, it speaks more to the soul than the intellect and is not about fact but about belief. So I think that they can co-exist when taken in context.

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