How we come to select a book is an interesting concept – the subtle influences that make us choose one over another. I saw “The Signature of all Things” listed on the Goodreads site in the “Best of 2013″ awards category. From there I went to the reviews, which were naturally, mixed. And I suspect that, like many others, I purchased the book because of Elizabeth Gilbert’s previous work – “Eat, Pray, Love”. Oddly, “The Signature of All Things” also happens to contain selection as a driving theme.
If I had to select a star count for “The Signature of All Things”, I’d be as confused as Alma in the novel. I can’t say I enjoyed it. It’s too long. I don’t know whether this is because the fashion now is for extremely long books. In an age where readers have come to expect “Free, Cheap, Long” as the parameters for their purchases, maybe Liz Gilbert was told to ‘bulk it up’. But it’s way too long and I found myself skimming portions where Liz delved into Dickensian lengths. If this were a novel submitted to a publisher, by an unknown author, it would certainly have been heavily edited.
Editing should also have taken care of a few irritations in the mid-section where Liz Gilbert lost her timeframe. She makes statements such as Alma was “not a swimmer” when no woman was a swimmer in 1850. Then there were niggles such as why didn’t she jut show the drawings (the non-vulgar ones) to the natives and discover the identity of the boy she’d traveled across the world to know instead of wasting years of her time and hours of mine? The ultimate identity of the boy was obvious to me chapters before it emerged which only makes the mystery more annoying.
Eat, Pray, Love was also a book I struggled with for its narcissism although I adored the concept and my dislike could have been similar to Alma’s own quandary when another writer pips her to the post. Still, “The Signature of All Things” occasionally reads like “Eat, Pray, Love” in crinolines – as though Liz Gilbert wishes to explore her voyage of self-discovery story in another age.
And then we came to the denouement.
And this is where I woke up and felt my own long, sometimes agonizing, journey became somewhat worthwhile. Without hitting the “Spoiler” button, the ending sums up for me, a concept I have been recently very focused on. Coming through personal trauma is a complicated endeavor in which it’s natural to seek out reasons and validation. I have always believed in a bigger entity outside of the weak and fragile human – the Universal Energy. In the battle through adversity, we turn to the bigger force as a teacher and inquire what are we meant to discover from our problems.
But like the questions posed by “Signature” what if we are merely seeking another mothering figure out of personal fear? Just as Darwin’s theories raised fury, so our own adversity makes us seek some justification for what may be a totally random fact of human existence.