I am only about half-way through the book right now (and it's a long one - 500 pages in a tiny font), but I am completely and utterly mesmerized by both the gorgeously rendered historical settings and Gilbert's beautiful writing style.
I haven't read Eat, Pray, Love.
Nor have I read any of her other novels.
This is my first experience with her prose. And I am kicking myself for not picking up one of her books earlier.
It's, well, quite frankly, amazing. Intelligent, clever, meaningful, charming..
Spanning much of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the novel centers around the Whittaker family - focusing mainly on Henry Whittaker, a self-made millionaire who makes a fortune in the South American quinine trade, and his daughter, Alma, a brilliant and gifted botanist. It's a meticulously researched, evocative tale of ambition, love, desire and the thirst for knowledge and self-improvement.
“Take me someplace where we can be silent together.”
“You see, I have never felt the need to invent a world beyond this world, for this world has always seemed large and beautiful enough for me. I have wondered why it is not large and beautiful enough for others-- why they must dream up new and marvelous spheres, or long to live elsewhere, beyond this dominion... but that is not my business. We are all different, I suppose. All I ever wanted was to know this world. I can say now, as I reach my end, that I know quite a bit more of it than I knew when I arrived. Moreover, my little bit of knowledge has been added to all the other accumulated knowledge of history-- added to the great library, as it were. That is no small feat, sir. Anyone who can say such a thing has lived a fortunate life.”
“The trick at every turn was to endure the test of living for as long as possible. The odds of survival were punishingly slim, for the world was naught by a school of calamity and an endless burning furnace of tribulation. But those who survived the world shaped it--even as the world, simultaneously, shaped them.”
“I would like to spend the rest of my days in a place so silent–and working at a pace so slow–that I would be able to hear myself living.”