Tuesday, November 5, 2013
Book Review: The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
Author: Elizabeth Gilbert
Enjoyment Rating: *****
This book would be rated: 1% of this book would be rated VERY R, but the rest is probably PG. So if you read it and come to the scene where she comes across a sex book and think the rest of the book is going to be porn, skip ahead a few pages and go on your merry way. Yes, you'll miss one of the minor themes of the book, but it's okay. You'll also have to skip a scene in the bathroom, and one in the moss cave, but don't let it deter you.
Okay, so this is a book where my personal bias is going to come through. My guess is that a lot of readers will find this book slow. They'll say that not much happens, and that readers have to wade through lots and lots of history and botany for a little bit of action. If I'm being totally honest, I think that's probably true. But I have a thing for long, lingering books where a reader can get really lost in the character, and from the first chapter, when Alma Whitaker is born in 1890, I was totally lost in the story.
Alma is the daughter of a working-class Englishman who uses his limited knowledge of botany to steal cuttings, which turns into a job sailing with Captain Cook, which eventually helps him build one of the largest botanical and pharmaceutical companies of the 1800s. Her mother's family has run the Dutch botanical gardens since the 1600s. So it's no surprise that Alma is raised (in Philadelphia) to be educated and independent and hard working. The book covers the successes and disappointments of her long life, and I loved reading about her interactions with abolitionism, spiritualism, evolution and all of the movements of the 19th century that came in between.
My only beef with the book, and again, this is a reflection of my personal bias, probably comes from my obsession with the obituaries. When Alma looks back at her long life in the final chapter of the novel, she examines her accomplishments and her disappointments. When I read the obituaries, I tend to see that most women who did not have children have much more interesting obituaries than those who did, and it seems that the author, through Alma, is celebrating the accomplishments that can come through a child-free life. Or maybe I'm just too sensitive because it takes me all day to (badly) review a few books because I don't have the time for solitude and reflection that a woman like Alma had.