Sunday, October 17, 2010

Curiosity by Joan Thomas

In a novel set in Lyme Regis during the earliest days of paleontological discovery, Joan Thomas imagines the life of a real person, Mary Anning. Born in 1799, Mary was a fossil collector from childhood, selling them as curiosities so that her family could eke out a meagre existence. The seashore and cliffs that were her collecting ground are famous and now considered a World Heritage Site. Mary was barely acknowledged for her part in scientific exploration during her lifetime - the accolades went to the men who purchased her finds.

Using alternating storylines, Thomas explores romantic, intellectual and class tensions between Mary and a high-society gentleman, Henry De la Beche. They are only two in a large cast of fascinating characters. The time and place are as pungent as Mary's folk wisdom: "A cheese full of maggots is livelier than a sound cheese."

Readalike: The Coral Thief (Rebecca Stott).

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