Sunday, February 2, 2014
2014 ToB: The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
Rating: 3 (only because it was interesting enough to listen via audio)
The Signature of All Things
A Novel by Elizabeth Gilbert
2013 /22 hours 44 minutes (audio book)
Narrated by Juliette Stevenson
When you know you have disliked an authors previous novel can you close your mind to the reading experience from that book? In my case, I tried. I simply loathed Elizabeth Gilbert's memoir, Eat Pray Love. As much as I tried to keep an open mind, The Signature of All Things just did not do it for me either. I will give it to Gilbert though, she did write a story that held my interest long enough to have me read it to the end and not send it back to Audible requesting my money back. That said, I would have never made it through the written edition.
The Signature of All Things is a novel spanning the late 1700s-late 1800s detailing the lives of the patriarch and botanist, Henry Whittaker and his daughter Alma. For the most part Gilbert tells an interesting story of the Whittakers and their rise from Henry's poverty to the family's wealth and love of botany. Yet for me it was a story that failed to connect me to the characters. Ultimately, I believe that Gilbert was attempting to write a novel that would rally the readers who enjoyed Eat Pray Love. I believe she was trying to entertain two audiences - those who wanted a true historical fiction literary novel and those who prefer light romances. The book includes very little true historical passages while the pages devoted to Alma's self discovery are many.
I will credit Gilbert for one good plot twist. The secondary characters Prudence and Retta were my least favorite and would have been my undoing had I actually had to read the book instead of listening to it. The unfolding of the relationship among the three ladies actually had some merit when all was discovered.
The Signature of All Things is considered to be historical fiction. It appears to be only the last 10% or so of the book actually details real history. The other 90% of the book is what I would assume an accurate period piece. The main character, Alma Whittaker is fictional. The historical fact Alma eventually has a part in is Darwin's Theory of Evolution. So Southern Baptists beware. The National Geographic conducted a very interesting interview with Gilbert that was worth reading.
The narrator chosen to read this book, Juliette Stevenson, was marvelous. Her female voices were well done and easily extinguishable. Her male voices were adequate.
One last comment I will make regarding the novel and the author is the comparison between Eat Pray Love and The Signature of All Things. Although completely different, one a memoir and the other fiction, I could not help comparing the two books. There would be at least two interesting topics for a book club discussion of the books. The first would be the relationship Gilbert had with her young lover before departing to Italy vs the relationship Alma had with Ambrose Pike. The second would be Gilbert's religiosity vs Alma's view of evolution.
For the most part I would not recommend this book to many people. The readers I know that might enjoy this type book would not appreciate the "self discovery" nor the thoughts on evolution. I would point more serious readers to The Luminaries or Life After Life.
As far as the Tournament of Books is concerned, I would still like to know why Signature was considered in the first place. Even though the match-ups are unknown at this point, I can not imagine The Signature of All Things making it to the second round.