REVIEW: The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert (Review by Terry Purcell)

Click here to order The Signature of all Things.When I was handed The Signature of All Things I noted the name of the author and popped it on the pile of books marked, not urgent. Yep, I let my prejudice against the author of Eat, Pray, Love influence my decision even though it was obvious this new novel was a departure from the squillion copy selling EPL. Then, one night I overheard a couple of booksellers talking. One had taken the plunge and had read The Signature of All Things. This was a bookseller whose opinion deserved respect and she had loved it. Loved it.

The next day I picked up The Signature of All Things. It was immediately obvious to me that this was a work of historical fiction of the highest order but it was a big book and with so many other books on my pile already, I gave it to my dad. Here is his review:

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Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Love is All Around: Let Me Count the Ways – Part Four

There is a moment in the film Love Actually when the old rocker, Billy Mack, played by Bill Nighy, realises that the greatest love of his life is his manager, Joe. And he tells him so.

This is a surprising admission, it surprises Joe, but it is also a wonderfully perceptive admission, because Billy Mack, peering through a cloud of silly prejudice and customary social expectations, has discovered the truth – Joe is the love of his life.

Finding the truth is something very few of us do.

What is more surprising is that, try as hard as I might, I cannot recall an occasion like it in any of the books I have read.

We know so many occasions when it might have happened – think of Frodo and Sam in The Lord of the Rings. There was ample opportunity for these two friends to realise the true nature of their relationship and express it as completely as Billy Mack. Each is more important to the other than anyone else is or could be.

Think of the many missed opportunities - Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson, Herbert Pocket and Pip, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Asterix & Obelix, Carrie, Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte, Noddy and Big Ears…

Love is all around us but because we are so intent on finding love, we sometimes don’t see it.

This Valentine’s Day might just be the day when you open your eyes and see that George Clooney, or that Victoria’s Secret model you’ve set your sights upon, is not and never will be your true love.

And instead, you come to accept the fact that your smelly flatmate or your ethically challenged business partner, or your boorish best friend or your garage band’s tone deaf lead singer is, in truth, your true love and deserves to know exactly how you feel.

True Love: it’s never where you think it is.

Romeo and Juliet – Kiss By the Book: Let Me Count the Ways – Part Three.

I am no Romeo.

I haven’t the courage to live by my heart’s direction, I haven’t the self-confidence to assume my love will be accepted, that I will be desired in return…

Each of my actions is measured. I live by committee, a committee dominated by the anti-me league. I express a desire and they debate it. By the time an agreement is reached, the object of my desire has either moved on, married and had children, or died of old age. Not that it would matter as the committee invariably decides that due to my toxic personality or the pimple on my forehead or the squeak in my voice that I should not act on any desire ‘until further notice’.

…Whilst Romeo just throws himself into it.

When Juliet says: You kiss by the book.

Does Romeo crumble? Does he run away? Nope, he just keeps storming the citadel.

I on the other hand  instantly recall the neat line drawing on page 35 of The Art of Kissing and sigh, ‘Yes, yes, I do kiss by the book.’

We cannot all be Romeo, we are seldom ever, Juliet – we need a little help.

As we sail together towards Valentine’s Day, having explored the coasts of Romantic Love and Unrequited Love and having dodged a detailed exploration of the reefs of Forbidden Love and Self Love, we must pass by the desert island known as Love By the Book.

Many a Romantic Robinson Crusoe has been washed ashore here. When Friday comes, and you’re home alone, there is a temptation to pick up the self-help book your mother gave you, and flick through its pages…

The cry – Why doesn’t anybody love me!? -which, moments before, threatened to burst forth, is suddenly exchanged for a sigh of relief and then laughter as you realise that there must people far worse off than you if this guff sells and sells and sells.

The true power of a self-help book will not be found in its pronouncements, no, the true power of a self-help book is in its tone – it takes itself and the issue at hand very seriously, which means you don’t have to.

Love By The Book maybe the least glamorous of the many varieties of love – and one I do not recommend taking too seriously – but when the chips are down, and we all face these crises of confidence, an IKEA –  put tab A into slot B – book of love can lift the spirits when vodka and a repeat viewing of The Notebook have failed.

The best lesson they can teach you, is how to laugh at yourself.

Five Very Different Guides to Love:

  1. Men Are From Mars Women Are From Venus
  2. He’s Just Not That Into You: The No-excuses Truth to Understanding Guys
  3. Nancy Friday’s Beyond My Control: Forbidden Fantasies in an Uncensored Age
  4. The Five Love Languages Singles Edition
  5. Textbook Romance
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