The Signature of All Things from Elizabeth Gilbert….I loved it, I hated it. I threw it down several times. Always picked it back up again. It didn’t keep me awake at night, eager to trundle on with it, but it whispered to me to pick it back up during the day.
It’s entertaining, has some wonderful characters (who wouldn’t want to sit at Alma’s Father’s table?!), is beautifully written in parts…but it’s about 250 pages too long. I found myself being really frustrated reading about all the dull bits of Alma’s life (Gilbert’s attempt at some Victorian titillation – ’50 shades of Grey’ marketing moments? – as Alma ducks in to her secret library chamber were, actually, just really boring and, on the whole, really unnecessary….Alma’s as asexual as the mosses she studies and those bits of the book just weren’t fun to read…..just as that part of the book wasn’t fun to read, in any way shape or form).
[I realise it’s weird discussing a spoiler I obviously can’t reveal, but I’m so annoyed about it, I will continue….The fact that she feels compelled to do that to Tomorrow Morning kind of grated with me; Alma is, if nothing else, a pioneer of feminism, a strong-willed woman. That Gilbert made the pinnacle of her experiences up until that point in her life a pretty debasing act was really disappointing for me, personally. I held Alma in higher esteem and she disappointed me].
So, anyway….once you’re past the difficult middle sections of the book, past where Gilbert takes what feels like a million pages to establish Alma’s character, the book opens out to something quite fine.
I loved the section where Alma meets Alfred Russell Wallace (he’s a hero of mine; the co-discoverer of the theory of evolution by natural selection) and Gilbert’s description of the meeting of the two of them is pretty much how I’ve always imagined a meeting with him would go (yes, I have – many times – imagined meeting and conversing with him; he’s a source of fascination for me! Gilbert herself admits to falling a little in love with him during her research!).
I also loved the overall message of the book: don’t live in the shadow of missed opportunities. Many of the characters seem to live their lives in waiting…waiting for something to happen, waiting for each other to change, waiting for circumstances to change….waiting, waiting, waiting….and when Alma decides to move, to make something happen, to take risks, that’s when she finds her own brand of confidence and, through this, contentment.
It’s a book that’ll frustrate you as much as, or probably more than, it charms you, but sometimes frustration is good in a book, especially when the bits that make you want to throw the book down in frustration are balanced by the beauty of some of the passages.
Feel like reading it?
I’m giving my copy away!
Leave a comment….we’ll hand-draw a winner next Saturday (21st March) and I’ll send the book out to you when I can get to the Post Office…..please be aware that post is often slow from where I am….