From the New York Times bestselling novelist, a stunning historical novel that follows the story of Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot, two extraordinary 19th century fossil hunters who changed the scientific world forever.
On the windswept, fossil-strewn beaches of the English coast, poor and uneducated Mary learns that she has a unique gift: "the eye" to spot ammonites and other fossils no one else can see. When she uncovers an unusual fossilized skeleton in the cliffs near her home, she sets the religious community on edge, the townspeople to gossip, and the scientific world alight. After enduring bitter cold, thunderstorms, and landslips, her challenges only grow when she falls in love with an impossible man.
Mary soon finds an unlikely champion in prickly Elizabeth, a middle-class spinster who shares her passion for scouring the beaches. Their relationship strikes a delicate balance between fierce loyalty, mutual appreciation, and barely suppressed envy, but ultimately turns out to be their greatest asset.
From the author of At the Edge of the Orchard and Girl With a Pearl Earring comes this incredible story of two remarkable women and their voyage of discovery.
Chevalier's newest is a flat historical whose familiar themes of gender inequality, class warfare and social power often overwhelm the story. Tart-tongued spinster Elizabeth Philpot meets young Mary Anning after moving from London to the coastal town of Lyme Regis. The two quickly form an unlikely friendship based on their mutual interest in finding fossils, which provides the central narrative as working-class Mary emerges from childhood to become a famous fossil hunter, with her friend and protector Elizabeth to defend her against the men who try to take credit for Mary's finds. Their friendship, however, is tested when Colonel Birch comes to Lyme to ask for Mary's help in hunting fossils and the two spinsters compete for his attention. While Chevalier's exploration of the plight of Victorian-era women is admirable, Elizabeth's fixation on her status as an unmarried woman living in a gossipy small town becomes monotonous, and Chevalier slows the story by dryly explaining the relative importance of different fossils. Chevalier's attempt to imagine the lives of these real historical figures makes them seem less remarkable than they are.
I really enjoyed this!
Interesting tale of women and early paleontology
I came to this after a string of books about 18th/19th century female naturalists. This was a fictionalized account of Mary Anning's life who would became a key contributor to the discoveries of prehistoric life and the challenge to accepted, religious ideas. It was an easy, enjoyable read with strong themes about gender, class and the burgeoning field of science.
Wonderful. I feel as though I've spent a week visiting with these two "remarkable" women.