I have been avoiding this book for months now. It keeps popping up and I keep popping it back down. Fossil hunting in the nineteenth century - what a dull subject for a novel, right? Wrong! When I finally could no longer avoid it, I thought I'd get it out of my system for good. Happily, it is one of those books that may just stay in my system for good. Reading a book that looks like it will be a real dud and instead discovering a literary gem helped me to empathize with Elizabeth and Mary and how they felt when they hammered open a dull rock and found a fossil inside.
Before reading this book (and I really suggest you do) you should know that the characters are not fictional. They lived and they were all a part of the scientific revolution that was occurring at the time. The author leaves us with a postscript explaining what is true and what is speculation. The joy of it is that it might all have happened just this way. We don't know.
While it is true that fossil hunting provides the background for everything else that happens in the book, and I am not very interested in fossils, I did find myself totally drawn to the other themes of the book. The attitudes toward women, and class differentials of the time, were stark and astounding. The friendship between the two women in the book, and how it was affected by the events and ideology of the day, was honestly portrayed and intriguing. But, for me, the attitudes of the common people and clergy in the face of astounding scientific discovery really made the book! How would you react in the face of scientific evidence that turns your entire world view on its ear? Could you find a way to interpret that 'evidence', grow and learn without having to question and redefine everything you believe to be true? Hard questions that the characters in the book are faced with and answer in their own way. It's interesting to realize that things we now take for granted were once the source of great upheaval. I love it when a book makes me look at something in a new way; makes me think of things in a new way. This book did that for me.