Are you skeptical of any novel as ubiquitously and glowingly reviewed as Elizabeth (Eat, Pray, Love) Gilbert's new book "The Signature of All Things"? Not being a fan of her most famous book, I succumbed anyway, not only because it's a story about plants, but because the book itself is positively Kindle killing, a beautiful work of art. It has creamy paper and gorgeous endpapers...a delight to hold in your hands and turn the pages.
Even if you don't want to take on all 504 pages of this sprawling odyssey, be sure and read Barbara Kingsolver's potent and intriguing review in the New York Times. There are such good bits; Kingsolver quotes her college professor's credo "It takes a superior mind to appreciate a plant." She takes this to mean you must be patient, because, as she says; "Plants do everything animals do, but slowly. They migrate, communicate, deceive, stalk their food and, with an ostentation of styles and perfumes to put the animal kingdom to shame, they make love. It’s just that catching them in flagrante delicto might require time-lapse photography."
Don't you love it when brilliant writers take on plants as their subject? Which is true of both review and novel. I haven't yet finished Gilbert's book, but I'm more than halfway through and captivated by her big-boned, gutsy, red-haired heroine who spends her life studying mosses and catching a glimmer of Darwin's theory years before he published it.
This is a character-driven, historical novel covering continents and species, as well as the early pharmaceutical industry, womens' role in the world, love, family, botanical illustration, and home life vs. adventure. But it always circles back to our awkward, investigative heroine's fascination with the natural world.
"Here is what few people understood, and what Alma came to learn: Moss is inconceivably strong. Moss eats stone; scarcely anything, in return, eats moss. Moss dines upon boudlers, slowly but devastatingly, in a meal that lasts for centuries."
Gilbert's reverence toward plants,and her evocative writings on moss, have me planning a trip to Bloedel Reserve to stroll through the moss garden... "The Signature of All Things" lends new appreciation for living in such a mossy part of the world.
.....I finished the novel since I wrote the beginning of this blog post, and I loved it more as it progressed. The last 50 pages are my favorite part, for they reveal the beauty and elegance of Darwin (and Alma's) theory of natural selection in a way I had never before appreciated - all in the context of the 1860's and 1870's when the Civil War and reconstruction gripped the U.S. and our heroine sheltered in Holland as Curator of Mosses at a great herbarium and botanical garden.
Best of all is one of the most appealing characters in any novel I've ever read (and I've probably read a novel a week since I was 10 or so)....a beautiful Tahitian orphan turned evangelical with the unforgettable name of "Tomorrow Morning..." I couldn't recommend the book more highly, it's an engrossing, delightful ride through history, human nature, and the endless mysteries of the world around us...especially the plant kingdom.