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Falling Angels by Tracy Chevalier
Genre: Historical Fiction
Format: Audio CD
Brought together by the death of England’s Queen Victoria, the daughters of the Coleman and Waterhouse families form a strong friendship that sees them through some of the most trying, controversial and social ups and downs of the time, 1901-1910. Although on the surface this is a simple story of two girls growing up during a time of social change, there is more to the story than that. Chevalier is able to portray the larger scope of social and political thought through the ideas and voices of the two daughters, often mimicking and influenced by the views of their parents. Since the story is centered on the friendship of Maud Coleman and Lavinia Waterhouse, we see these social changes with a more sympathetic and realistic way. Despite the differences in the class status between their families, Maud’s being wealthier, the girls form a very strong friendship. This friendship usually involves the two, along with Lavinia’s younger sister Ivy May, playing around the cemetery with Simon, the son of a local gravedigger. As social politics change, Maud’s mother becomes involved with the Suffragettes movement. The families are pushed together and pulled apart at various times in the book. The story is told through various characters: Maud, Lavinia, their parents and Maud’s cook and maid – Ms. Baker and Jenny.
In the beginning, the characters would tell their side of the same story, which had me worried that the book would be repetitious. I was pleasantly surprised that despite the overlaps, the different characters offered a completely different perspective making an event seem completely different from one an earlier character told. With each chapter the characters unfolded and developed in ways that wouldn’t be possible if the story was told through a single narrator. I listened to the audio version of this book, and it was a wonderful production. 11 different narrators read for each of the characters. Each chapter was assigned to a different character, so there was always a different voice, mood, attitude and persona carrying the story throughout the years.
Chevalier is one of my favorite authors. I adored Girl with a Pearl Earring and Remarkable Creatures. She is very gifted at creating a definitive mood of angst, and frustration through social structure, the class system and feminist views and developments. You can really see how much care and time Chevalier spends in researching the eras that she writes about. The narrators were wonderful, fully embodied their respective characters and really carried the story. Despite the jumping around of perspectives, the story remained linear.
By Tracy Chevalier
Recorded Books, 2002
8.75 hours / 8 discs
Book 25 of 2011
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Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier
Remarkable Creatures is a historical fiction piece by Tracy Chevalier, best known for her wildly acclaimed Girl with a Pearl Earring. Remarkable Creatures is the story of two female anthropologists in the early 1800s England. Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot were two of the nation’s most valuable resources and finders of fossil specimens that changed the face of scientific and religious study. Because of their social standing and because they were female, they were hardly given the recognition for their work until after their deaths.
Mary Anning came from a struggling, lower class family in continual debt until she one day finds a “monster” embedded in the cliffs of her hometown. Elizabeth Philpot is a “spinster” living with her two other sisters after her brother’s marriage. Although Elizabeth comes from a family of high social standing, she and Mary Anning form a fast and strong friendship in a beach town of Lyme Regis. Eventually, Elizabeth becomes the voice for Mary Anning in a world of elite men, who by instinctual default, deny women the right to participate in any scientific study or research. This novel is a story of their friendship.
I listened to this work on audio cd, thus confirming my beliefs that I can only listen to audio books when the narrator has an accent. I really enjoyed Girl with a Pearl Earring, and Remarkable Creatures was just as well written and researched if not better. Chevalier has a wonderful way of bringing her characters to life and proving the reader with a pure sense of the time. I loved the way she described the characters as leading with their hands, or eyes, or chins. These are subtle but telling ways of a characters personality and idiosyncrasies.
I did a fair amount of research on Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot, as my interest in the two women was further encouraged by this story of their struggle for just basic recognition for their magnificent finds. Neither woman was allowed to partake in any of the scientific discussion or analysis of their fossil finds. Usually their name wasn’t even associated with the piece on display. The book was comedic, serious, compassionate and had a very smooth flow. I like the alternating chapters between Elizabeth’s and Mary’s stories. I loved that the chapters did not overlap, or tell the same story through two perspectives. Instead, where one ended, the other picked up, continuing the story.
This is a great read for fans of history, inspiring women and remarkable creatures of eras long past.
by Tracy Chevalier
Read by Charlotte Perry and Susan Lyons
8 discs, 10 hours
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