** spoiler alert **
Ambitious is the first word I think of with this novel. There were many times during my reading when I felt Gilbert nailed the intersection for which she was aiming: tension between science and the divine; strong heroine journey; historical development of science in the 1800s-- particularly women in botany; love triangles; father/mother/sister complexes; writing style born of Dickens-Austen-Alcott; and, a plethora of travel and transformation metaphors (Gilbert's evolution from "Eat, Pray, Love" is evident on at least half the book's 500 pages). I found myself dog-earring passages to re-read and taking notes for my own life....suffice it to say, I enjoyed the book. However, it falls long-winded in parts and can feel like Gilbert's trying a bit too hard. I loved when Alma started traveling, but I also felt a hole in the novel where the story of Prudence and the school at White Acre should have been. Prudence's story was as fascinating as Alma's in some ways and I can sense a lovely novel spinning from Prudence's journey when Alma left for Tahiti. Otherwise, I very much enjoyed how connected I felt to Elizabeth Gilbert's creative process and am inspired to tackle writing a historical fiction novel of my own!