April and May, 2013
Curiosity, Joan Thomas
Remarkable Creatures, Tracey Chevalier
Reading by Lighting, Joan Thomas
The Girl in the Box, Sheila Dalton
The Purchase, Linda Spalding
Letters to my Daughters, Fawzia Koofi
Malarky, Anakana Schofield
419, Will Furguson
Seige 13, Tamas Dobozy
On today's post:
About Curiosity and Remarkable Creatures
A friend recommended Joan Thomas’s Curiosity, a book I’d long been thinking of. I ordered it, fell in love with it from word one. Well, from sentences one and two.
“They were powerful charms, curiosities. People who came to Lyme Regis to take the waters would pay six-pence for the meanest little snakestone and carry it for luck.”
I was hooked, and set off into this reading adventure with high hopes that were – I’ll declare right at the start – more than fulfilled. I found it hard to put Curiosity down. And this, despite the slight miasma that had hung over the novel for me, before I actually held it in my hands.
The circumstances of the publication of Curiosity were, as I recall, unfortunate. This must be a novelist’s worst nightmare, I remember thinking at the time. A novel not merely on the same subject had been published just months before, but that other novel, Remarkable Creatures, (an immediate New York Times best-seller) was by the already internationally recognized Tracey Chevalier, author of Girl with a Pearl Earring among other best-selling, novels. I felt sure that Tracey Chevalier must have been equally dismayed: for Joan Thomas’s earlier debut novel, Reading by Lightning, had also won international acclaim as winner of the Commonwealth Prize and the Amazon.ca First Novel Award, and been longlisted for the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.
But perhaps both Tomas and Chevalier were able to appreciate how strangely fitting it was, that two novels should be simultaneously published which -- though they dealt with the same set of established historical facts -- managed to tell almost completely different stories: because the scientific discoveries at the heart of both these novels were, in their day, so wildly divisive and controversial.
The central character of both novels is Mary Anning, a cabinet-maker’s daughter who – some 40 years before Darwin published On the Origin of the Species – discovered several intact skeletons of prehistoric creatures in the clay cliffs of Dorsetshire, discoveries that set the social and scientific and religious communities of the time ablaze with controversy.
Anyway, I gobbled up Curiosity. Such a vivid and beautifully written picture not just of life in that place and in those times, and of an “uneducated” but highly intelligent young girl’s scientific obsession – which strikes me as the kind of obsession that lies at the root of all creativity – but indeed of the vagaries of the human heart.
Then, itching with curiosity myself, to see how Chevalier handled all of this, I had to order Remarkable Creatures, of course.