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3.63  ·  Rating details ·  315 Ratings  ·  68 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
Paperback, 416 pages
Published February 1st 2011 by Emblem Editions (first published January 1st 2010)
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Lime I just saw your question so answering now. I read both books and found them complimentary and was glad I read both. This one presents a different…moreI just saw your question so answering now. I read both books and found them complimentary and was glad I read both. This one presents a different point of view and writing style. It's a bit harder to get into, but I ultimately found it more satisfying than the Tracy Chevalier book. That being said, I really enjoyed both of them. (less)
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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-
Nov 16, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had a difficult time getting into this book but the story of Mary Anning's life caught my interest and the writing issues became irrelevant.
I never really had a good handle on the time frame within the novel. The years just went page Mary is 12 years old, the next she seems to be about 18 or so. That issue never resolves itself throughout the book but, again, the story is interesting and one just goes with the flow and forgets Mary's age or the time.
This story focusses on a lot: ge
Mary Lou
Feb 16, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Friederike Knabe
Aug 29, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: canadian-lit
"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
Jun 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I thoroughly enjoyed the story, the characters (all of them based on real people), the flowing evocative prose, and the setting. We will be visiting Lyme Regis as part of our trip to the UK, and this is a book I will probably re-read--memories of the novel and of the town.
Kathy Olmstead
May 05, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This novel let me feel what Lyme Regis was like in the earlier 1800's and the importance of the work and passions of Mary Anning (before Charles Darwin's works). Thomas depicts the struggles of the scientific communities in Europe to reconcile their religious beliefs with their interpretations and understandings of the evidence from the remains of these "serpents" and sea life. How important it is not to be dogmatic in the face of new learnings. I am intrigued to learn more. A trip to Lyme Regis ...more
Apr 16, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
what a wonderful novel! thomas did a great job evoking the time and the setting, and conveying the challenges mary anning faced. to me, there seemed to be slight dabblings in the realm of magical realism - mary being struck by lightening, her father's perceived protection from the cliffs, and anning using her senses to gain knowledge (where might a specimen be found? is henry home?) - but while these facets of the story were very interesting, they didn't really get explored as much as i would ha ...more
Jul 20, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 13, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bookclub
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
Jul 31, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 4-star
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
Linda Tuplin
Well written fictional account based on a true story of a poor but brilliant English woman in the late 1700's who was a fossil hunter and sought to have her name included in the annals of science.
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
Feb 22, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had a few quibbles with this - it is slow and the two main characters don't meet until about 100 pages in. Also, for me, Mary Anning is so much more interesting than anyone else in the novel.

But I loved the topic - fossils! and the place - Lyme Regis! and the writing is truly lovely.
Elspeth G. Perkin
“Mary, who be your friends and who be your enemies?”

Although Curiosity can be said to be a sublimely fashioned novel that delves into forgotten sections of history and science with nicely arranged themes, it still sadly disappointed me with its certain characters, labored pace and digressing chapters. I admit, I nearly put this work down several times in the beginning but the attention to historical details, fashioned dialogue, regional descriptions and unique traditional superstitions of stones
May 09, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 24, 2011 rated it liked it
"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
Jan 01, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
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
Feb 19, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Mary Anning - what an intriguing and courageous person she was. Read in contrast to Tracy Chevalier's Remarkable Creatures, this novel is much darker. The effects of class on society in Great Britain so discouraging. Being a woman in nineteenth century downright depressing. Well researched.
This book is a somewhat fictionalized account of the life of Mary Anning, a real life fossil collector and palaeontologist. I waffled between two or three stars for this one, but ultimately decided on three stars as I was interested enough to finish the book, and I really liked Mary, especially knowing she was a real person; I was inspired to find out more about her.

There are a lot of facts included in the book, but Ms. Thomas focusses on the "relationship", such as could have been, between Mar
May 26, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Kai Coates
Dec 31, 2016 rated it really liked it
I find Mary Anning such an amazing woman that I have now read two fictional accounts of her life (the first was Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier). I enjoyed the focus of Curiosity more, as I felt a lot of the amazing friendship between Anning and Elizabeth Philpot was overshadowed by a forced love triangle in Remarkable Creatures, although they are very similar in style with the alternation of narrators. I will probably try and read an actual nonfiction account next (maybe The Fossil Hunt ...more
May 11, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
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
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
Sep 28, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  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
Amy Brown
Oct 04, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-club, fiction
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
Mar 28, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 30, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: book-club
As much as I wanted to get into the book - and who knows if I don't learn something more about it on Thursday's book club meeting - it was a bit off-putting that so much of it was about the quasi-scientists taking credit for someone else's discoveries. A few weekends ago, our neighbour's daughter had attended a science-themed birthday party dressed as Mary Anning and I was impressed with the few facts I could share with her. I had not yet got to the steamy lewdness of Book II just yet, and it se ...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
May 26, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Larissa Fan
Jun 12, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating historical fiction. The author does a wonderful job of portraying life in early 19th-century Lyme Regis, England - I was thoroughly immersed in this world. Mary Anning struggles against the heavy constraints of poverty, class and gender to satisfy her intellectual curiosity and make some incredible fossil finds, including the first ever ichthyosaur skeleton when she was only 12. Mary is such a remarkable character that half-way through I believed I was mistaken in thinking that she ...more
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The Opening Sky won the McNally Robinson Award, was named a CBC Book of the Year, and was shortlisted for the 2014 Governor Generals Award for Fiction. Visit Joan Thomas 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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