Tuesday, February 17, 2015
The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
This book was selected by my book club, so I decided to give it a try. I haven't read any of Elizabeth's other books, but I have read several glowing reviews of Eat, Pray, Love. The Signature of All Things is set in the late 1700's to the late 1800's and tells the story of Henry Whittaker's rise to fortune. He eventually settles down in Philadelphia with his wife where they are blessed with a daughter named Alma. The majority of the book is told from Alma's point of view.
Alma had a rather lonely childhood growing up at White Acre, which reminds me of the Vanderbilt family's Biltmore Estate. White Acre is a large mansion set on hundreds of acres of land. Alma received an extensive education from her mother as well as a tutor and began to study mosses, which becomes her primary form of entertainment as well as her occupation. The Whitaker family eventually adopts a young girl Alma's age named Prudence, who's mother worked for the family and died unexpectedly. The two girls are never close, but they carry on as any other siblings would. They befriend a neighbor girl named Retta, who actually helps to bring the sisters closer together.
As a whole, I'm not quite sure what the point of this book really was. Alma spends much of her time researching and writing books about mosses. I thought there would be some interesting developments as Prudence and Retta eventually marry and start families, but it simply increased Alma's isolation, which led to more research and little plot development. When a visitor named Ambrose Pike arrived at White Acre, I thought we might FINALLY be getting to the heart of the story. While he does become a large focus of the last half of the book, his arrival really didn't hold my attention any further than reading about mosses for page after page.
While the book is very eloquent and well written with dialogue that depicts the time period, I can't really recommend this book. It seemed like I would never get to the end, so I eventually switched to the audio version so I could listen while I was training for my next half marathon. (At least I could kill two birds with one stone.) I thought the narrator did a remarkable job with the various characters' voices. Her interpretation of the Reverend Welles was by far my favorite. He was a missionary Alma met in Tahiti while visiting the island. The time period when Alma was in Tahiti was my favorite part of the book, but even this seemed to drag on longer than was necessary.
I will probably still give Eat, Pray, Love a try, but I will not be rushing into it after completing The Signature of All Things.