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3.58 of 5 stars 3.58  ·  rating details  ·  194 ratings  ·  49 reviews
Award-winning novelist Joan Thomas blends fact and fiction, passion and science in this stunning novel set in 19th-century Lyme Regis, England the seaside town that is the setting of both The French Lieutenant's Woman and Jane Austen's Persuasion.

More than 40 years before the publication of The Origin of Species, 12-year-old Mary Anning, a cabinet-maker's daughter, found...more
Paperback, 416 pages
Published February 1st 2011 by Emblem Editions (first published January 1st 2010)
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The focus of Joan Thomas's historical fiction in Curiosity is the life of Mary Anning. Mary Anning(1799-1847) was a self-educated paleontologist & fossil collector from Lyme Regis, on the Jurassic Coast in the South West of Dorset in England.

De la Beche Portrait of Mary Anning
Portrait of Mary Anning by Henry De la Beche

With her brother, when she was 11 years old, Mary found the first complete Ichthyosaur. During her lifetime she collected, identified and sold many fossils, among them: skeletons of more ichthyosaurs, a long-...more
Mary Lou
This well-researched and believable historical novel has characters who are all based on real people. Mary Anning was unschooled, female, and working class poor - all characteristics that should have doomed her to a life of obscurity in 17th century England. But she happened to live in Lyme Regis during a time when people were beginning to be interested in finding and trying to understand the nature and history of fossils, and she happened to be a brilliant, natural paleontologist. Because she l...more
Cheryl in CC NV
Jun 22, 2013 Cheryl in CC NV rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommended to Cheryl in CC NV by: Natalie
Compare to Chevalier's Remarkable Creatures. Chrissie didn't like this, but Natalie preferred this to TC's.
If I weren't reading this for a challenge, I might have given up by now (about page 90). The language is challenging, with convoluted syntax and plenty of archaic (?) British idioms and slang. I'm not particularly empathizing with any of the characters, either.
Ok finished. Definitely fiction - Thomas's fanciful interpretation of characters is, erm, intere...more
Friederike Knabe
"Oh, she's a history and a mystery, our Mary."
Mary Anning, the heroine of Joan Thomas' novel, CURIOSITY, was indeed a mystery and has, for a long time, been a mere footnote in the history of paleontology. Her recognition as "the greatest fossilist the world ever knew"*) came long after her death in 1847. Basing herself on whatever facts are known about Mary, her family and English society mores and rules in the first quarter of the nineteenth century, Thomas has created a multi-layered, convinc...more
I had a really hard time getting into this book. It took me a week to read the first 30 pages! There is a lot of old British slang used at the beginning of the book and I found that confusing and off-putting. I also kept feeling like I missed something important and kept flipping back and re-reading to no avail. By the time I got to 100 pages (about a quarter of the book), it was moving very slowly and I couldn't really tell you what the book was about. It didn't capture my attention at all. Thi...more
A reader living in Alberta will most certainly be drawn to Joan Thomas’s new novel “Curiosity”. Great finds of palaeontology are right in our backyard so a novel set in a time when this science was still in its infancy sounds very interesting. And Joan Thomas does deliver a book that has all the ingredients a Canadian prize winner should have: it is obviously well researched, it is historical without romanticizing, beautifully written in its details, has compelling characters including a strong...more
I usually wait till I've finished a book before reading any reviews, but I'm glad I made an exception here. My research confirmed that Curiosity is based on the life of Mary Anning, a "fossilist" who made some important discoveries in Lyme Regis, England, in the early 1800s, but was not credited with the discoveries, what with being young, poor, female and unlettered.

The book takes a while to get going, but don't give up - it's worth pursuing. Getting to know Mary and her attitude to life and s...more
At times i loved this book. It's well-researched and well constructed and based on real people and events. It came out about the same time as Tracey Chevallier's Remarkable Creatures but tells the story from a completely different perspective, that of Mary Anning the fossil finder herself.

Like Chevalier's the book deals with the clash of religion and science, classes and wealth, and male/female roles. In Curiosity this theme is more thoroughly explored, particularly the whole issue of class. At...more
This book is based on the life of Mary Annings a British paleontologist who discovered(before Darwin) many significant fossils in Lime Regis. A child who tromped though poverty and prejudice like an angel wearing muddy boots; her intelligence and persistence engulfed her in the life of science to the exclusion of any other normal things in a child's life. this is a fiction so well written with all the elements of a mystery about how she and a young man who insists on being an illustrator - yes h...more
I keep trying to write a review, but it always comes out so stilted and awkward. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It promised particular things and lived up to that promise, which now makes this sound ambiguous. The story of Mary Anning is one that I find particularly fascinating, and considering everything she went through and the evolution of evolution she was living through, the story is exactly what it should be.

I picked up this book while trying to read another book, searching for characters...more
Joan Thomas based "Curiosity" on a journal written by Anna Maria Pinny, a wealthy woman who lived in Lyme Regis, Dorset who wrote that Mary Anning had confessed to Anna Pinney that she had been in love with an upper class gentleman who was involved in studying fossils. Joan Thomas has looked at the various men who were in Lyme Regis studying fossils and decided that Henry Del la Beche is the most likely person Mary was in love with. From this journal and the historical information Thomas has wri...more
Amy Brown
I loved this book. It was a little slow to start, but after the first ten pages I was captivated by the characters and the ideas. The book is based on history; it's about Mary Anning, a lower-class English woman who discovered some of the most important fossils found in her time. Due to her class and gender, she didn't get any credit for her contribution to our knowledge of the history of the earth, but enough records of her survive the Joan Thomas was able to piece together this fascinating nov...more
It takes genuine talent as a novelist to imagine and tell a love story set in the specific context that is the dawning of palaeontology. Thomas was inspired by the story of Mary Anning, a true unsung pioneer in that field, probably the antithesis of a household name, except, perhaps, if the household is located in Dorsetshire, England. But it is not just the love story that piques the reader's curiosity, but also the beautiful prose; Thomas's use of a rich vocabulary challenged me, and on more t...more
It’s not that often I read fiction these days but I made an exception for this as I’ll read anything and everything to do with Mary Anning. (What an astonishing lady, I just love pondering on her life and trying to imagine what on earth it was like finding those ‘dragons’ in the rocks. Crazy. Just can’t quite get my head round it. But back to this particular book…). ‘Curiosity’ isn’t entirely fiction as much of it is based on fact and the author says all characters, even minor ones, are based on...more
"Curiosity","Joan Thomas"
"Mary Anning is a very interesting historical character. She lived in the early 19th century in Lymis Regis, England. Living in extreme poverty, she was a noted collector of fossils in the area. Being a woman she was denied credit for much of her work, and could not be admitted to the Royal Geological Society. Male collectors and geologists took credit for many of her discoveries, including the first ichthyosaur skeleton found when she was 12 years old, the first two pl...more
Curiosity is about Mary Anning who, when she was 12 years old, found the first intact skeleton of an Ichthyosaur, and spent a year chipping it from the cliffs near Lyme Regis. We learn that this was only the first of many important discoveries made by this amazing woman who was perhaps the most important paleontologist of her day.

Mary Anning was poor, unschooled, and female - all characteristics that should have doomed her to a life of obscurity at this time period in England. But she happened t...more
I cannot continue. What I have discovered is that both Remarkable Creatures and Curiosity accurately depict the time period and its religious turmoil. The depiction is spot-on, but to me suffocating. I cannot deal with the "oh-so-proper" dialogue of the upper-class people. Whether Mary becomes hopelessly infatuated with Colonel Birch or Henry De la Beche is not interesting to me. I am at fault, not the book. I should not have picked up this book in the hope that it would give me enjoyment. I sho...more
Oct 11, 2010 Lorraine rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Scientists who enjoy fiction
Recommended to Lorraine by: Giller Prize Long List
So interesting! Mary Anning, a real-life person, was such a collector of fossils that she became an expert on them. The book is a fictional account of her life, struggling as a poor family, and selling the "curios" to make money. In alternate chapters the story of Henry De La Beche is told, an unconventional illustrator who shares Mary's fascination with the fossils. Their stories do combine, hence the "love story" subtitle. What makes this book really fascinating for me is the conveyance of the...more
Decades before Charles Darwin published The Origin of Species, Mary Anning (1799-1847) grew up in Lyme Regis--a coastal town in west Dorset--and as a child collected fossils, selling them as "curiosities." Joan Thomas's novel follows much of Mary's early life as she makes her initial discoveries and learns of their significance. As word of the fossil discoveries spreads, an assortment of cranks and genuine scientists follow in the path she forges. But Mary saw little benefit from her discoveries...more
Brilliant! If anything I was put off by the 'curiosities' or fossils themselves,not being familiar with what these objects should look like. I find it awkward reading when I cannot see the objects in my mind's eye. Thus the concrete obscured the intellectual for a bit for me. BUT, once I got over that (with help from the illustrations) I was blown away by the way this writer attacked her subject. The social strata of life in 19th century England was complicated, mucky and dangerous for the prota...more
Carrie Marcotte
An interesting novel. This novel is a study of the geography of the western coast of England in the early 1800's, the beginnings of prehistoric study, and the separations of class in this time. The characters and some of the events are factual, and the author takes some liberties to fill in the rest. The beginnings of paleontology and the study of prehistoric earth is quite intriging, in which 'men of science' (usually well-off, men of leisure with little educational background for this) gather...more
A wholly imagined love between two historical figures, this is an engaging and intricate story. Mary Anning was the impoverished 12 year-old who discovered and excavated the first Ichthyosaurus skeleton ever found. Unorthodox and artistic, young Henry de la Beche was a budding geologist when he first met Mary in the village of Lyme Regis on the coast of southern England. It is here that Anning lived out her entire life and career, making numerous other discoveries and helping to develop, along w...more
This work of historical fiction is sort of a mix between The Map that Changed the World and a racier Jane Austen novel (if there can be such a thing). Here is a summary from "More than 40 years before the publication of The Origin of Species, 12-year-old Mary Anning, a cabinet-maker's daughter, found the first intact skeleton of a prehistoric dolphin-like creature, and spent a year chipping it from the soft cliffs near Lyme Regis. This was only the first of many important discoveries...more
This was a captivating read about ‘lower class’ Mary Anning who scavenged the fossil rich cliffs and beaches of Lyme, England. Her finds uncovered various dinosaur bones which she recovered with great personal effort, and sold to collectors. The author imagines a possible romance with an upper class man who shares her collecting passion. Ultimately history does not credit Mary for her discoveries, but credits the men she sold them to.

Point of interest – the tongue twister “She sells sea shells...more
George Ilsley
Brilliant and engaging, although towards the end I felt the novel suffered because the author was trying the stick close to the facts instead of rewriting history for the sake of a better story. Then again, maybe I'm just a romantic and Thomas' plot choices are far more realistic and authentic.

I only wish I could remember the words for seven daily meals. Dewsip, then breakfast, then nuncheon, then something something and finally supper. Other obsolete words are also scattered through the layers...more
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A second book about Mary Anning and Lyme Regis. As this is another fictional book based on facts, the characters that also appear in Remarkable Creatures are a somewhat different in this book.
The complete true facts about Mary Anning's life are not completely known as she was born in 1800 and only lived for approx 47 years. Still, both books were a good read as stories about real people that did exist at the time.
Sandra Schonwetter
Did you know that Charles Darwin most likely did not come up with his evolution ideas on his own? A young woman of lowly birth, Mary Anning, unearthed and sold fossils for survival. Her mind spun with creative, scientific questions that were before her time. The author has done a fantastic job of researching the topic. The author lives in Winnipeg and is a friend to a friend of mine - cool!
Tara Chevrestt
So far this is a DNF for me. The subject matter interests me but the characters really don't. I'm not rating this because I am going to try it again at a later date in hopes I am more in the mood for it. Right now, I simply have better things to read. (Books that are saying, Read me, Tara!!! Read me now!!! I may be the novel you have been searching for your entire life!!)
Rachael Preston
I loved this book so much I wrote to the author ten minutes after I'd finished reading it to let her know how much I'd been swept up in Mary Anning's world. Class lines, a wrenching love story and the place of women in society all carried along by Thomas's stellar prose. My house was a mess, and I'd neglected my own writing, but it was well worth it.
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My third novel, The Opening Sky, will be released in September 2014. It's a contemporary novel about a family in crisis. Both my previous novels, Reading by Lightning and Curiosity, were set in the past, and I found it exhilarating to tell a story set in the here and now. Visit me at
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“The poor love life as passionately as the rich do. Perhaps more, for the effort it takes to cling to it.” 7 likes
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