Wednesday, 10 September 2014

The Signature Of All Things - Elizabeth Gilbert

This is one of those books that will leave you thinking about the book much after you have closed it. You will want to revisit sections for a better understanding of what was said because you are too busy enjoying the book to realise that you have been entertained and educated simultaneaously.

Gilbert's previous bestseller, Eat Pray and Love drew a lot of attention. Frankly, it did not appeal to me although I was impressed by her style. It was her style that stayed with me when I read the book for she has a great way of worming her way into the reader's consciousness despite the thin plot.

Her next book, Committed was  a comment, on marriage as an institution based on her analysis of its relevance in different cultures. Again, it did not garner my interest, as it seemed too contrived. I suppose this was a book for marriage sceptics who formed the fan club of Eat, Pray and Love.

The Signature of all things, however came as an interesting departure to her previous books. This was pure fiction set in the Victorian era in the Americas, centred around a heroine who was a scientist and was a story about her life experiences.


Alma Whittaker is born into a household where logic, reasoning are paramount and the education of the mind a crucial element. When still a girl, their parents adopt another girl called Prudence who is all she is not, breathtakingly beautiful and low on intellectual abilities. Both sisters grow up into young women and make choices which affects not only their lives but also their relationship.

What works:

  • Gilbert has a firm grip when it comes to depicting Philedephia of the 1800s and etches out a great character in Alma.
  • Her writing style is arresting and she pans out the story well, taking it from England to Philadelphia to Hiati.
  • She also introduces science in a very interesting manner, blending it in the story so well. The study of moss which can be boring is explained very well, so much that the reader is drawn into learning more about it. That is surely a plus.

  • Henry Whittaker's journey to America is interesting and I loved the businessman's character which was a foil to his intellectual wife. The characters stay with you for a long time whether they are suitors and later husbands of Alma and Prudence or the Dutch housekeeper, the keeper of secrets in the household.
  • It is obvious a lot of research has gone into the book as Gilbert brings in Darwin and the possibility that his theory of the origin of species is perhaps not his own. A commendable effort at making the world of science so accessible and entertaining to a science hater like me.

What doesn't:

  • The story stretches a bit towards the end. The Hiati experience is exotic but it seems Gilbert was too carried away by it all. It stretches on, losing the reader  momentarily and suddenly gets back on track with developments. That part could have been edited and turned into a taut section.

Overall, it is a great read, a terrific effort. This book shows off an entirely new dimension of the author and leaves the reader enlightened at the end of it. Much recommended.

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