Tracy Chevalier is one of my favourite authors and yet I was so disappointed by her latest book before this one, Burning Bright, that I didn't automatically rush out to buy Remarkable Creatures when it was first released.
I did finally give in though as I was hearing much better reports about Remarkable Creatures and all the reviews seemed to indicate that Chevalier had returned with a great novel.
Remarkable Creatures focuses on the lives of two very different women living in Lyme Regis on the English coast in the early 1800's, Mary Anning, a young working class girl with the knack for finding fossils or "curies" along the beach and Elizabeth Philpot, a middle aged, upper middle class single women who has been forced to move to Lyme Regis with her sisters from London after the death of her parents and the marriage of their only brother. The two women are connected by their shared loved and interest of the fossils - although their reasons for this love are very different. The finding of curies brings much needed money to Mary's struggling family while Elizabeth seems more interested in the historical and geographical significance of the finds - as well as the way they cause her to re-think many of the basic teachings and beliefs of her life.
The story is told from the viewpoint of Mary and Elizabeth in alternating chapters and I think this is one of the main problems I had with the book. Mary and Elizabeth are meant to have an enduring friendship and connection but for me I was never able to fully believe in this relationship and the strength it was meant to contain. I'm not sure if this was because I had to keep changing focus from reading the story from each point of view - the women never seemed connected in the narrative and so I could not connect their relationship. Unfortunately I think this relationship is obviously one of the standing points of the novel and because I wasn't able to connect with and believe in it the novel didn't quite work for me - even though I did enjoy (as always) Chevalier's beautiful writing style.