Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier

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I loved Tracy Chevalier’s earlier work Girl with a Pearl Earring and looked forward to reading more historical fiction by her. So when I found Remarkable Creatures in a book fair I lunged at it surreptitiously (my heart went whoa but my brain said act nonchalant). The book is reminiscent of Austen, with long sentences and pauses; set in that era but it had none of her wit (not complaining, just stating facts). Her book Persuasion is set in Lyme and another book set there is on my to-read-soonest-list, The French Lieutenant’s Woman. But I’m digressing. For the highly unique subject of fossils and how their discovery changed science as they knew it, full marks to the book. And what made the book interesting for me is its genesis in truth (Okay simply put it is inspired from real life).

The beginning was slow but your patience will be rewarded. The two part narrative added to the experience of connecting with the narrator, Mary. Her crude accented English was done with the purpose of keeping it real (yes I’m using millenial lingo) but it was a tad annoying.

One of the greatest fallacies (propagated by the Church) that Earth was just 6000 years old, was challenged and refuted when extinct animals were found. Creatures which had earlier died out. Which no longer existed. They questioned God’s plan for he turned out not to be infallible, if not mortal, which was the beginning of the end for Creationism (I so wish!) and paved for the road for Darwinism.

The book at its core is about the friendship between two women from different walks (read class) of life – Elizabeth and Mary; their upheavals when the fortune of one changes rising above her station while life of the other remains the same, and how their friendship is tested. More than friends they were each others’ companions (as they were called then). They understood each other best, and made sense of each others lives in a way no one else could. Neither of them married. Intelligent readers will get what the book was hinting at.

The status of women in the 19th century,  and  their role in science overshadowed by men; their opinions ideas and discoveries not even treated as having value forget being given importance, and the tussle between religion and science are some of the themes discussed in Remarkable Creatures. The story is slow and set in a time before *revolution* was afoot, setting the stage for Darwin’s dangerous ideas.

Remarkable Creatures made me want to pick up Ship Fever again. It reminds me of the kind of historical fiction Andrea Barrett writes. And I can offer no higher praise than that.

Possession

If any book was made for a reread it’s Possession by Antonia Susan Byatt. The language lends itself to a slower reading with multiple pauses, not the way I read it. Initially I required pauses but as the book progressed I became breathless with anticipation. The story shifts from the past to the present and unlikely but delicious connections are forged. A literary mystery with a difference. I’m way under qualified to talk about Possession. Consider this a book appreciation post, if you may.

It was a slow start with too many characters and their back stories, with some passages dragging in between but the plot and the writing more than made up for it. I raced to the end, and this after having seen the film should tell you what kind of a book it is.

This book made me work hard, like the few classics I have read do but none had actual poetry in them. The poems took me back to school (the way we were required to study it but we didn’t have long epic poems). The poems were interwoven so delicately that I actually read all of them though not in order and, of course, I couldn’t understand everything. Out of all the poems Swammerdam stood out for me.

What surprised me was the amount of natural science present in this book about the Victorian romance of two poets. And it is clever because the year 1859 was an important year for biology. It was the year Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was published. I could appreciate the book better because I knew some of the things being talked about. Who would have thought my biology background would lead to a greater appreciation of this splendid book. Continue reading “Possession”

Jurassic World and the return of wonder

The other day I saw the trailer for the new Jurassic World movie and shared it with my friends. We squealed like school girls quite unlike world weary adults that we are, and decided that June 2018 was a long time to wait. This movie is special to our generation because as kids it was probably one of the first movies we saw in theatres which brought a different world alive to us. Sadly they haven’t kept the magic alive. Jurassic World was a waste of a brilliant premise. Dinosaurs paraded around like cattle. People riding dinosaurs like donkeys isn’t what we come to see in cinemas. A big mela but with dinosaurs as a spectacle for the movie going audience. Frankly I was underwhelmed.

There is a line in the movie, “No one is impressed by a dinosaur anymore and the kids look at it like it’s an elephant”, which I quite agree with. The number of herbivores roaming around in lush greenery was unbelievable. Ever heard of the phrase too much of a good thing?

Dinosaurs used for military purposes was bizarre and we actually see them hunt like a pack of wolves. Evolutionarily hounds didn’t come into picture until much later. In a movie aimed at kids there was too much violence. Or perhaps I’m just old school.

Filling in the gaps in genome with the genes of other animals (like the ability to camouflage from the tree frog) was far from believable. But some parts were shown well like imprinting, rearing in isolation and an animal figuring out its place in the food chain.

I couldn’t channel the 6 year old in me to keep pace with the 10 year olds who were watching it with me. My movie viewing was peppered with far too many questions than I’d have liked. (Note to self – never take two 10 year olds to the movies together.) The solo movie going experience is delightful and more immersive as you are left alone with your thoughts. I realized, barring a few close friends I am now used to watching movies alone and I like it that way (will wonders never cease?). But it was also quite nice. I was sneaking looks to see the expressions on their faces to gauge if they were following the story and enjoying the movie or were scared so I will be prepared accordingly. When there was a blood curling scream and my young cousin sank into her seat petrified I realized there is no preparation here, you learn on the spot. (Parents have my utmost respect.)

Continue reading “Jurassic World and the return of wonder”