Thursday, September 29, 2016

TBT: The Signature of All Things

I just started reading Elizabeth Gilbert's latest book,Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear , so I thought it would be a good time to revisit her last fictional novel while I'm at it~

Amazon  |  Book Depository

Summary from Goodreads.comIn The Signature of All Things, Elizabeth Gilbert returns to fiction, inserting her inimitable voice into an enthralling story of love, adventure and discovery. Spanning much of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the novel follows the fortunes of the extraordinary Whittaker family as led by the enterprising Henry Whittaker—a poor-born Englishman who makes a great fortune in the South American quinine trade, eventually becoming the richest man in Philadelphia. Born in 1800, Henry's brilliant daughter, Alma (who inherits both her father's money and his mind), ultimately becomes a botanist of considerable gifts herself. As Alma's research takes her deeper into the mysteries of evolution, she falls in love with a man named Ambrose Pike who makes incomparable paintings of orchids and who draws her in the exact opposite direction — into the realm of the spiritual, the divine, and the magical. Alma is a clear-minded scientist; Ambrose a utopian artist — but what unites this unlikely couple is a desperate need to understand the workings of this world and the mechanisms behind all life.

Exquisitely researched and told at a galloping pace, The Signature of All Things soars across the globe—from London to Peru to Philadelphia to Tahiti to Amsterdam, and beyond. Along the way, the story is peopled with unforgettable characters: missionaries, abolitionists, adventurers, astronomers, sea captains, geniuses, and the quite mad. But most memorable of all, it is the story of Alma Whittaker, who — born in the Age of Enlightenment, but living well into the Industrial Revolution — bears witness to that extraordinary moment in human history when all the old assumptions about science, religion, commerce, and class were exploding into dangerous new ideas. Written in the bold, questing spirit of that singular time, Gilbert's wise, deep, and spellbinding tale is certain to capture the hearts and minds of readers.

Believe it or not, moss like this plays a major role in this book~

ReviewIt's hard to believe the same author who wrote Eat Pray Love and Committed wrote this book. I knew well enough not to expect the same type of semi-autobiographical musings but this is about as far away from that as you can possibly get.

I listened to this book on audio, and although it seemed to be never-ending, I gradually came to enjoy it. However, throughout most of the book I just found myself astounded by the amount of research that must've been conducted by Gilbert to come up with the background details of this story. Which, in the end, aren't background details at all but are really quite central to the final chapters.

It took much of the first half of the book for me to begin to like any of the characters but eventually they did grow on me. A book like this is usually about the relationships between all of the characters but I felt that in this book those relationships were merely a tool to get us to the end so that Alma's theories could finally be revealed.

There's a great deal of lead up until we meet Alma, who I would consider the main character of the book. I wonder how much of that was necessary but I guess if you want to write an epic, you might as well tell as much as you possibly can.

Overall I liked this book. It's not something I'll ever pick up again but it has given me a lot to think about in terms of a life well lived, which I think Alma did in the end, even if it wasn't conventional or what was expected at that time (or now for that matter). In fact, I think that was what I liked best about her and the book~

Tahiti: just one of the locations that Alma visits

What do you think of authors who change their genre and writing styles completely?  Are you able to get past it to enjoy the story?  Leave a comment below~

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