Reviewing Elizabeth Gilbert and The Signature of All Things in the Chicago Tribune

Friday, September 27, 2013

Readers of this blog have no doubt noticed that my reflections on books here have lately been few and far between. I promise to ease away from that deficiency as soon as client and literary deadlines lift.

But in the meantime, I'm privileged to share today my review of Elizabeth Gilbert's breathtaking, fiercely alive historical novel, The Signature of All Things, which I read on behalf of the Chicago Tribune. The review starts like this, below, and carries forward here.

The photo above is of The Woodlands, a slice of land upon which much of the action in this novel takes place.

Success is a glory, a phenomenon, a sly intoxication. It is also a haunting, a probable curse. For how is one to dream beyond the answered dream? How might one recalibrate the very idea of ambition? Write again with urgency? Success is binding and so, too, is historical fiction. All those facts to get right. All those anachronisms to guard against. All that information. Writers of historical novels must be endlessly curious, and fierce. They must engage the reader on every page and win the battle against asphyxiating doubt. If Elizabeth Gilbert, known until now for her mega-memoir “Eat Pray Love,” was ever haunted by any of these questions, her raucously ingenious new novel, “The Signature of All Things,” has shoved any doubt in the closet and bolted the door. “Signature” is not just an historical novel that spans two centuries and many geographies. It's a 500-page novel of ideas — a book about universal biological theory, the study of moss, the cultivation of quinine, the painting of orchids and the people who do these things with passion.


Liviania said...

It's nice to see some literary thoughts from you, but I think everyone understands deadlines.

(And that photo confused me until some googling, because to me "The Woodlands" is a suburb north of Houston.)

kate hopper said...

Oh Beth, what a lovely review. I've just added this book to my list. I'll have to save it for a few hours of calm, and who knows when those will arrive, but I know they will!

Sarah Laurence said...

I'm one of the few who didn't love Eat, Pray, Love, but then again I'm not a big fan of memoirs. I quit at Eat in Italy (although I liked the food descriptions, it was too whiny for me), but your eloquent review makes me want to take a look at Gilbert's latest novel.

By coincidence, I've been reading her sister's YA books, the Dairy Queen trilogy. The first one if one of my favorite YA books.

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