Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert: Read This If

I admit this freely: sometimes I look back on the time in my life when I devoured Eat, Pray, Love with a cozy, amber-tinged nostalgia. A particularly touchy feely, kum ba yah (in a very sweet, good way) friend gave it to me with flushed READ THIS IMMEDIATELY instructions, and I did. I was insanely jealous of this Elizabeth woman who managed to convince someone to fund her year of travel-the-world self-discovery, which, yes, can seem totally self-indulgent, but do NOT tell me you wouldn't seize the chance to explore different modes of being and living, given fully-funded the option. And Gilbert managed to produce a book that was raw, honest, and fully relatable. 

The Signature of All Things is a completely different animal, but in an amazingly good way - 500 sweeping pages covering the long, unlikely life of one Alma Whitaker. Told in a style that befits the time period during which it is set (the 1800s), this historical tale takes us through the age of great geographical and scientific discoveries, when the entire world seemed new and ferociously beautiful, with newly found peoples (non-white peoples, of course, who managed to exist just fine without the meddling patronizing whiteys came along with their ugly diseases and 'civilized' ways, but, well, 'discovery' happened) and newly discovered (by white people) species of plants and animals finding their way into the modern world. 

Gilbert does subtly tackle the issues of race and conquering, though they are not issues at the forefront of the novel. Its heroine, Alma, is a large (6 feet tall!), uncomely woman with a brain and education to more than match any man's, and one can imagine the issues that can be expounded upon with such a character, during such a time period, when a good marriage was supposed to be the main goal of all women. Alma was a woman obsessed with botany, and, eventually, with mosses specifically. She was privileged beyond measure, especially for the time, but she was not haughty, and was only somewhat clueless. She made quite an interesting character. I could keep rambling, but I've already broken my keep-it-short-and-sweet rule, so: 

Read this if: 
  • You highly enjoy or are not offended by well-researched, well-written historical novels.
  • You wonder if women did much of anything besides marry and/or take direction from men in the 1800s (they did).
  • You're looking for an atypical read with an atypical story arc. 
  • You want to go on a fantastical adventure all from the safety of your cozy couch. 
  • You are looking for a departure from the plight of the beautiful, misunderstood woman. 
  • For you audiobook junkies, the audio is highly recommended. 
Don't read this just now if: 
  • You are looking for a fast-paced, highly suspenseful read. This is epic-esque, not high-adrenaline. 
  • You are a misogynist. You would only enjoy a small portion, and would miss the point entirely of many descriptions. 
  • You are at a highly distractible point in your life - I seem to always be in such a state, and it took me a few weeks to finish this one. 
  • You are stodgily religious - you might find some of the presentation and subject matter offensive. 
  • You are looking for a a cookie-cutter, predictable plot. 
Oh, and full disclosure: I received this book courtesy of Penguin and NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. 

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