The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I have never read a book written by Elizabeth Gilbert before so the reviews I have read comparing this book to, say, Eat, Pray, Love are meaningless to me. In this way, I feel I had a very open mind to her works with being unable to compare The Signature of All Things to other novels she has written.
This is a story of a girl, then woman named Alma who finds her way in the world. It begins with the back story of Alma's father Henry Whittaker and his path as he travels from poverty to wealth. To me, this was the most interesting portion of the book...which isn't good considering that it is only the beginning chapter. We learn about Alma's parents and how they have arrived at their current situation in life when Alma is born. The story of her parents is integral to the novel as it explains how Alma is brought up.
She is taught multiple languages at a young age. Her parents believe all children should be thoroughly educated so she is encouraged to explore and ask questions. She rides her pony at five years of age into the forest to forage for botany samples. It is intriguing to read and compare the learning differences from the 1800s to how our children in this day and age are educated. (Obviously her education was atypical of that time period for a female.)
When she is nine her family adopts a little girl named Prudence and she struggles to relate to the girl as a true sibling. There is always a wall between them that Alma cannot break through. This becomes a repeated theme throughout the novel, with Alma trying to understand Prudence her entire life. My hope was that there would be something dark or scandalous involved with Prudence, but in the end *SPOILERS* it is boringly revealed that Prudence is as altruistic of character and as sacrificial as she seems.
In one sentence the book fast-forwards twenty something years and Alma is in her forties. Nothing in between is truly elaborated on. We learn she is still living on the family plantation and is still working on botany studies. But aha! A charming man comes to visit the plantation and she finds herself falling in love with him at the grim spinster age of forty-eight.
(At this point we have already been subjected to awkward descriptions of Alma's personal sexual awakening, which is expressed later in her sexual interest in this visitor, an Ambrose Pike.)
Alma develops feelings for him, he is interested in heavenly things believing he once communicated with God and the plants etc, she believes they are of like mind, they marry, they never have sex, she is devastated, she sends him away.
From there on it's just disappointment after disappointment. Imagine reading that her biggest desire was to "take a man's member in her mouth". This from an educated well-read woman who is apparently satisfied with her life? It's ridiculous and so incongruous in the setting of the novel.
Finally, Ambrose Pike, who she weeps over (after discovering his homosexual proclivities) is nowhere near worthy of tears or expenses or complete life changes (travelling to Tahiti to find his lover). All the characters seem boring. The most intriguing person, Henry Whittaker, is not nearly elaborated on enough.
I feel I was tricked by this novel. It seems to be an interesting read on a woman who discover secrets of life, but in the end she just wanted to have oral sex. Even more insulting, she didn't seem interested in receiving any in return.
My rating is 2.5/5, but I bumped it up to 3 because I felt that the descriptions were good and I did find it to be a somewhat educational read. Will I pursue other books by Elizabeth Gilbert? Probably not, unless someone promises me that life's culmination is not found in a blow job.
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