Review: Elizabeth Gilbert’s “The Signature of All Things”

by writereaderly

elizabeth gilbert signature of all thingsI was entirely gripped by this novel, and I confess that I had the faith to try another EG because a) Eat, Pray, Love was considerably less offensive than I had feared and b) The Last American Man showed what an excellent writer – and more interesting human – she was than her EPL persona. Plot basics: Alma Whittaker, 19th century female botanist (or bryologist, moss specialist, to be exact), grows up in excessive wealth in Pennsylvania, studies plants on the vast estate, falls in love, exiles herself to Tahiti post-tribulations, sends herself to liberty in Holland, dies old, venerable and respected. Ta-da. Well researched, solidly written, interesting, absorbing. The constellation performance was sublime, as was the Tahitian women’s football game.

But I do have some quibbles with this book. The characters all seem to be types of incomprehensible masks rather than people (e.g., the cowboy/entrepreneur, the selflessly good woman, the angelic aesthete, the classic bluestocking-come-good). The heroine develops to about age 25 and then remains just a framework of herself. The groundbreaking woman in history is a slightly facile chestnut as a plot device. And dammit, she deserved some kind of decent sex-life after absorbing faux-literary porn for so many years.

So, not a perfect novel, but I found it fascinating and I confess that possibly I chose public transport rather than bicycle today because of the reading opportunities of the former (and also because of the ludicrous winds threatening my helmeted self). Recommended.

Where it came from: Work
Time and manner of reading:
Two thorough days of reading in every possible tram, train, walk between tram and train, bath, and shopping centre opportunity
Where it went: Home
Best line of the book: Of the various bookmarks: “Too many people turn away from small wonders, I find. There is so much more potency to be found in detail than in generalities, but most souls cannot train themselves to sit still for it.” (p.203)
Reminds me of/that: —
Who I’d recommend it to:
Seekers of a literary pageturner
Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; Returning the Gift edited by Joseph Bruchac; The Pea-Pickers by Eve Langley; When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chödrön