Tart-tongued spinster Elizabeth Philpot meets young Mary Anning after moving from London to the coastal town of Lyme Regis. The two quickly form an unlikely friendship based on their mutual interest in finding fossils, which provides the central narrative as working-class Mary emerges from childhood to become a famous fossil hunter, with her friend and protector Elizabeth to defend her against the men who try to take credit for Mary's finds. Their friendship, however, is tested when Colonel Birch comes to Lyme to ask for Mary's help in hunting fossils and the two spinsters compete for his attention.
I am not sure if the above summary really does the novel real justice. This is a very complex but very slow book -- not in a boring way but in the way a true character novel progresses. There is no rush of action (even with the discovery of rare dinosaur fossils). Admittedly, I wondered in the first few chapters if I would be able to stick through to the end. I soon find myself very intrigued by the character's and their relations with each other. I know their are deeper themes of social constructs and the burgeoning evolution theory of the 19th century. I wish I was a prolific enough writer to comment on them -- but I am not. So all I can tell you is the themes are there.
It should be noted that the characters are based on actual people and actual events that took place during the 19th century in coastal England. Being a bit of a history enthusiast, it was interesting to be able to do a little extra research on the people mentioned.
So what great novel is next on the list ... "Forget About It" by Caprice Crane (I like to alternate heavier books with lighter ones -- both in size and content ;)!)