Saturday, 13 December 2014
The Signature of All things
What can I say about this novel?
It's long. I listened to it on cd's. It took 21.5 hours.
And it will take me longer to digest it.
Elizabeth Gilbert has taken on such a complex subject. The best description I have read is that it is a "botanical odyssey". That really describes it well- a long series of wanderings or adventures, especially when filled with notable experiences, hardships, etc.
Here is the plot in a sentence: Alma Whittaker, born in 1800, grows up with a fascination for botany and it leads her into the mysteries of evolution.
Simple plot but so complex!
A fellow reader that I respect has read it three times and says this: "I totally marvel that a 48-year-old woman explores such deep questions in her novel."
Now I feel guilty about complaining about the length!
Really, it is about the origins of the earth and everything in it. Now how profound is that?
And I really appreciate history put into a fictional form. Much of this novel is based on fact. The settings are actual places- Kew Royal Botanical Gardens in London and the Hortus Botanical Garden in Amsterdam.
Some of the characters are real- certainly Darwin, but also Alfred Russel Wallace, who was a friend and follower of Darwin. Alma never met Darwin, but she did have a wonderful encounter with Alfred when he read Alma's research and realized the "extraordinary simultaneity"- three people coming to the same conclusions about the 'origin of the species'- Alma, Wallace, and Darwin. But Darwin was first!
And so, it is about the theory of natural selection. But it doesn't stop there. Alma knew that there was something missing from her research- something to account for our unique human consciousness. And so the book ends with Alma (at 82), discussing with Alfred Wallace, the mystery that goes beyond science. Wow!