How to capture a journey? Because this novel is definitely a journey through a long-ago and far-away world, one that becomes more and more familiar as you read on, and more involving and moving and fascinating. It begins simply enough, but builds up steam and takes you across time and oceans and deposits you somewhere green and alive and full of dreaming. My journey with Alma Whittaker, born in 1800, is not over — I am still reading the last chapter. But I wanted to recommend it while I am still not completely satisfied, while I am still in its arms, so to speak.
I loved Elizabeth Gilbert’s earlier book, the memoir Eat, Pray, Love. It is easy to love that book; it reads fast and true, it is funny, thoughtful, introspective and spiritual. She writes with a freedom and ease that makes me respectful of her courage and humanity.
The Signature of All Things is a novel but is entirely similar in spirit and intelligence. And I find myself constantly amazed at how a writer is able to create a whole world, such wholly complete characters, and a compelling story all rolled into one.
Here is a short passage, following a description of Alma’s dreams: “Arresting though these images may have been, the dreams somehow did not disturb Alma. Instead, they filled her with the most astonishing sensation of syntheses—as though all the most disparate elements of her biography were at last knitting together. All the things that she had ever known or loved in the world were stitching themselves up and becoming one thing. Realizing this made her feel both unburdened and triumphant.”
Certain passages made me somewhat uncomfortable, but the beauty of reading is that it doesn’t matter. Being allowed to look into the mind and heart of another person through the writing makes it a worthwhile journey. And a very enjoyable read!