The Signature of All Things: A Novel
Synopsis: Follows Alma Whittaker’s life throughout the nineteenth century, exploring botany and human passion and belief.
Date finished: 13 May 2014
Comments:My goodness. This book is proof that if you go beyond your comfort zone, a whole world of treasures can be found. As you know, I don’t read much fiction. I find I often can’t stomach either the characters or the plot or the writing. Seldom have I found a work of fiction that can satisfy my picky standards for all three, so years ago I just gave up. Leave it to Elizabeth Gilbert to renew my faith in fiction writing.
Now, I know there are two types of readers. There are those who loved Eat, Pray, Love and there are those who hated Eat, Pray, Love. Some people found Gilbert a spoiled narcissist, and swore her off for good. I was in the other camp. I loved everything about Eat, Pray, Love.* I read that book at a time in my life where I was floundering, facing the same ennui Gilbert was. And although I had a stable marriage and no desire to travel the world to shed the feelings that were holding me back, I didn’t begrudge Gilbert her journey.
All that by way of saying, I’m a Gilbert fan. I think she’s one of the best women writers of her generation, and certainly one of my favorites. But when this book came out last year I was bummed. To me it meant it would be another several years before she’d be releasing another memoir (if, indeed, there is another memoir), and I dismissed it. Until, that is, Swapna Krishna reviewed it on her blog a few weeks ago, and I was intrigued enough to read an excerpt.
After two pages, I was sold.
The writing is absolutely stellar. The plot was interesting. The characters were fully-fleshed. The 500-page tome covered eight or nine decades, three countries (America, Tahiti, and Denmark), and topics ranging from botany to mysticism to evolution to abolitionism, and practically read itself. The word “masterful” comes to mind. There’s honestly nothing I would have changed, nothing that seemed too far-fetched (and considering some of the plot threads, that’s quite an assertion).
It’s hard to tell you what this book is about other than a woman’s life, her study of botany and mosses, her relationships, her family, and her growth. It’s a character study, but it is not light on plot. It’s an adventure story, a romance, and a mystery. It’s so many things and like nothing I’ve ever read before.
I know, I know, gushing is unbecoming. I just highly encourage you to give the book a whirl.
Even if you don’t like fiction.
Even if you don’t like Elizabeth Gilbert.
*I also enjoyed Julie and Julia, which puts me in a very small minority.
Would you recommend this to a friend?Yes. Yes. Yes. And yes.
You might also enjoy:Eat, Pray, Love