Excerpt from Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Remarkable Creatures

By Tracy Chevalier

Remarkable Creatures
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  • Hardcover: Jan 2010,
    320 pages.
    Paperback: Oct 2010,
    320 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Jennifer G Wilder

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When he had gone out to his chambers, I picked up the book. “ ‘A Guide to All the Watering and Sea­Bathing Places for 1804,’ ” I read out, for Louise’s and Margaret’s benefit. Flipping through it, I found entries on English towns in alphabetical order. Fashionable Bath had the longest entry, of course ­ forty­nine pages, along with a large map and a pull-out panoramic view of the city, with its even, elegant facades cupped by surrounding hills. Our beloved Brighton had twenty-three pages and a glowing report. I looked up the towns our brother had mentioned, some of which were little more than glorified fishing villages, warranting only two pages of indifferent platitudes. John had made a dot in the margin of each. I expect he had read every entry in the book and chosen those that suited best. He had done his research.

“What’s wrong with Brighton?” Margaret demanded.

I was reading about Lyme Regis then and grimaced. “Here is your answer.” I handed her the guide. “Look at what John has marked.”

“ ‘Lyme is frequented principally by persons in the middle class of life,’ ” Margaret read aloud, “ ‘who go there, not always in search of their lost health, but as frequently perhaps to heal their wounded fortunes, or to replenish their exhausted revenues.’ ” She let the book drop in her lap. “Brighton is too expensive for the Philpot sisters, then, is it?”

“You could stay here with John and his wife,” I suggested in a burst of generosity. “They could manage one of us, I expect. We may as well not all be banished to the coast.”

“Nonsense, Elizabeth, we shan’t be separated,” Margaret declared with a loyalty that made me hug her.

That summer we toured the coast as John had suggested, accompanied by our aunt and uncle, our future sister­in­law and her mother, and John when he could manage it. Our companions made comments like “What glorious gardens! I envy those who live here all year round and can walk in them anytime they like”; or “This circulating library is so well stocked you would think you were in London”; or “Isn’t the air here so soft and fresh? I wish I could breathe this every day of the year.” It was galling to have others judge our future so casually, especially our sister-in-law, who would be taking over the Philpot house and didn’t seriously have to consider living in Worthing or Hastings. Her comments became so irritating that Louise began excusing herself from group outings, and I made more and more tetchy remarks. Only Margaret enjoyed the novelty of the new places, even if only to laugh at the mud at Lymington or the rustic theater at Eastbourne. She liked Weymouth best, for King George’s love of the town made it more popular than the others, with several coaches a day from London and Bath, and a constant influx of fashionable people.

As for myself, I was out of sorts throughout much of the tour. Knowing you may be forced to move somewhere can ruin it as a place for a holiday. It was difficult to view a resort as anything but inferior to London. Even Brighton and Hastings, places that previously I had loved to visit, seemed lacking in spirit and grace.

By the time we reached Lyme Regis, only Louise, Margaret, and I were left: John had had to return to his chambers, and had taken his fiancée and her mother back with him, and our uncle’s gout had caught up with him, sending him and our aunt limping back to Brighton. We were escorted to Lyme by a family we’d met in Weymouth, who accompanied us on the coach and helped us to get settled at lodgings in Broad Street, the town’s main thoroughfare.

Of all the places we visited that summer, I found Lyme the most appealing. It was September by then, which is a lovely month anywhere. With its mildness and golden light it will soften even the grimmest resort. We were blessed with good weather, and with freedom from the expectations of our family. At last I could form my own opinion of where we might live.

Excerpted from Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier. Copyright © 2010 by Tracy Chevalier. Excerpted by permission of Dutton, a member of Penguin Group (USA). All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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