An uplifting and affirming work of art

By Elizabeth Gilbert

I think this would have to be one of my favourite books of all time. Sadly I don’t have time to do it justice in this review, but I believe it will go down in history as a literary great. I wept, I laughed, I gained a much deeper understanding of the life and passions of a botanist, what it must be to live one’s life as a passionate and enquiring scientific-thinker (which I am certainly not), and pondered the many mysteries that Alma (the main character) dedicated her life to understanding: especially the mystery of altruism and what biological imperative could possibly explain it.

I recognised in Alma’s story the journey of a woman, of a human being, and the inevitability with which our dreams and ideals are so often demolished or disintegrated, in Alma’s case slowly humbling her and ultimately bringing her to peace with a life that was both extraordinary and ordinary. I came to love Alma and those that she loved, as if she were my own dear friend.

As a writer, I am in awe of the depth of research and insight that has gone into the creation of this novel, the world it contains, bringing the events and scientific discoveries of those times to life through the eyes of a unusual and admirable woman. I listened to this book as an Audible and looked for every possible excuse to do housework (dishes, laundry etc) so I could listen to the next instalment of this fabulous narrative.

Elizabeth Gilbert has triumphed again….and this work is so very different from anything else of hers I’ve ever read. Incredible! And the Audible version is delightful and completely engrossing, narrated by Juliet Stevenson who does such a masterful job of bringing each character uniquely alive. I didn’t want the book to end – would have been utterly content to listen to many more chapters of Alma’s later life in Amsterdam opened out in the same way as earlier chapters of her life in Philadelphia and Tahiti. Like nothing else I have ever read or listened to: I have no doubt I will be returning to its wise and exquisite prose via a paperback or ebook copy.

For those who’ve been disappointed by life, in spite of passionate dedication to one or more causes or dreams, I believe this book will console and comfort. We have been conditioned to interpret our lives in terms of success or failure. Alma’s life transcends such interpretations and helps us to view our own lives from a higher perspective and with spaciousness and gratitude: an ultimately uplifting and affirming work of art.