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.

Intelligent design and evolution

How do you explain to a ten year old that there is no God when asked how did the first human originate without telling them about evolution because she does not know what the word means?

I told her it happened by itself. There is no intelligent design and no sentient God, and so he didn’t create the first human. We evolved from other primates (okay I used the word monkeys). Of course she didn’t understand. If adults have a problem understanding evolution and say that it was intelligent design, how can a little child understand the concept.

She asked me if there is no god why are there so many temples and why do so many people worship them? I said people do it to to placate themselves if they have done something wrong. It is something that gives them hope or rather sells them hope and grants them peace of mind  letting them believe that everything will work out in the end. What I didn’t say – it is also a way of absolving responsibility and laying it at the feet of God since he controls the universe (even a leaf won’t budge without his permission). The world was not created by God but rather man created another man (typical) and designated him as the creator. Of course the Hindu pantheneon has 330 million gods and godesses (no I don’t know their names).

I had never been the one to follow rituals just for the sake of following it. I have always asked why how what where to the annoyance of my parents and relatives. I refuse to follow rituals just for the sake of following it to appease someone beyond my reach, who may or may not exist.

I hadn’t always been an atheist; I believed in a God which I had never seen or heard (thanks to my upbringing), who would come to my rescue when the need arose. But now I believe in the power of the universe. I believe that mother nature is superior to all.

Religion failed me in the darkest parts of my life. The parts of my life when I needed hope to stay afloat and I couldn’t find solace in religion. I found strength in myself and it was the people who loved me that helped me see the light at the end of the tunnel.