Yes! Most of them will, anyway. If you enjoyed Eat, Pray, Love for its personal confessions alone, you might be disappointed. But Gilbert fans who appreciate the author’s humor and intelligence—congratulations! You have a new book to devour.
It’s got to be hard to write a New York Times bestselling account about a time in your life and then, a few years later, pitch your editor a novel about a woman in a hoop skirt in pre-Civil War America. Surely, someone said, “why not another book about attempting to find yourself?” Luckily, the pressure to focus on one genre hasn’t constrained Gilbert. Instead, she’s able to tell us a story of fictional characters’ attempts to find themselves—and to tell it with the same familiarity and ease we all enjoyed in Eat, Pray, Love.
The Signature of All Things follows the Whittakers, an industrious family of botanists, through most of the 18th and 19th century. We meet all sorts of iconic characters from this time—missionaries, pirates, and abolitionists, to name a few—as Henry, and later his daughter, Alma, go on magnificent sea voyages in the search of plants and answers. Thankfully, Gilbert’s research is thorough, which is such a relief when you’re reading a book taking place in another era. A few chapters into the novel, you realize she’s done her homework with a teacher’s pet’s enthusiasm, and you can relax and enjoy the ride.
In no particular order, here are the top reasons fans of Gilbert’s bestselling memoir will love her new work of fiction:
1. The protagonist has a lot in common with the narrator of Eat, Pray, Love: Gilbert is definitely writing what she knows: a woman, with a question, on a journey. Like the narrator in her memoir, the main character in Gilbert’s novel is lovably clueless, hyper-sensitive, and lacking self-awareness. You can’t help but root for her even though sometimes she’s frustratingly oblivious.
2. The settings are sumptuous: Yes! We once again get taken around the world by Gilbert. We even revisit the Pacific Island culture for an extended stay in Tahiti. For those who devour Travel + Leisure magazine but have never passed the Mason Dixon line, Gilbert’s description of the beaches, stars on the ocean, and natural sanctuaries are like a fine French chocolate, to be rolled around on the tongue and savored.
3. It captures love in all its varieties: It’s confusing. And people get hurt. Some are selfish and some make sacrifices and some just avoid the whole thing, while others plunge forward with a conquerer’s spirit. We see all approaches in The Signature of All Things.
4. It’ll teach you something, but painlessly: I appreciate the way Gilbert is able to tell a story, make it funny, make us care, and at the same time pack in so many factual details about foreign cultures and the natural world that you walk away thinking, “Hey! I think I accidentally learned something while enjoying that book.”
5. It’s funny, y’all.
In a nutshell: The Signature of All Things is a well-written novel that takes place in a past century. If you insist on reading memoirs and memoirs alone, you might not want to get on this train. But if you can expand your view of Gilbert as more than a memoirist, but a writer with many talents, you are going to like this book!
Are you an Eat, Pray, Love fan? Are you planning to pick up this novel?