Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

Hardback:  501 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher:  Bloomsbury 2013

Source:  Tywyn Public Library, Wales.
First Sentence: Alma Whittaker, born with the century, slid into our world on the fifth of January, 1800.
Favourite Quote: 'The only thing I'd said was that a supreme intelligence exists in the universe and that it longs for union with us. 
Review Quote: “Ms. Gilbert has turned out the most ambitious and purely imagined work of her twenty-year career: a deeply researched and vividly rendered historical novel about a 19th century female botanist.”  Wall Street Journal.
Literary Awards:  Short-listed for the Wellcome prize for books on a medical theme.
My Opinion: An outstanding piece of writing.

As I finished reading this novel my first thoughts were 'wow, this is a masterpiece'. When I first heard that we we were due to read this at book club I had been very apprehensive. The only previous experience I have of Elizabeth Gilbert's writing was with Eat, Pray, Love which I had found myself rather indifferent about, in contrast to the majority of readers. My uneasiness continued when I collected the book from the library and discovered it was over 500 pages, quite an undertaking if it was not going to be to my liking.  Once I started reading though it very soon became clear that this was entirely different not only from the last book I read by this author but from anything else I have read recently. An outstanding piece of writing, no wonder it is twelve years since her last novel, I imagine years of research must have gone into 'The Signature of All Things'. The story of a 19C botanist, in which medicine, science and exploration are all fundamental to the plot made for absorbing reading.

Alma Whittaker is the heroine of the novel as it follows her life from birth to old age. Born in 1800 in Philadelphia, USA to a Dutch botanist mother and an English botanical explorer father, who becomes the richest man in the area. Growing up on a vast estate with her thirst for knowledge she eventually becomes a passionate botanist herself. As a woman born in a time of great change she bears witness to new ideas in the fields of class, commerce, religion and science in all corners of the world. Alma's research in the botanical world draws her into the mysteries of evolution, then the man she falls in love with draws her in quite the opposite direction with his spiritual and magical beliefs. A most unlikely couple but united in their desire to try and understand what this world is all about. What did they discover and how did life work out for them. You will have to read for yourself and be taken to some fascinating places with unforgettable characters. An enthralling novel that captivates right to the very last page.

Highly recommended to those looking for an epic read of a historical novel that has got so much more to offer than the majority.

For those that might be interested here is the link to my review for : Eat, Pray, Love,

                           The Signature of All Things - Promotional Trailer - No spoilers 

Author Profile

Elizabeth Gilbert was born on July 18th 1969 in  Waterbury, Connecticut, USA. where she grew up on a Christmas tree farm. She attended New York University, where she studied political science by day and worked on her short stories by night. After college, she spent several years travelling around the country, working in bars, diners and ranches, collecting experiences to transform into fiction.
These explorations eventually formed the basis of her first book – a short story collection called PILGRIMS.
During these early years in New York, she also worked as a journalist for such publications as Spin, GQ and The New York Times Magazine. She was a three-time finalist for The National Magazine Award, and an article she wrote in GQ about her experiences bar tending on the Lower East Side eventually became the basis for the movie COYOTE UGLY.
In 2000, Elizabeth published her first novel, STERN MEN. In 2002, Elizabeth published THE LAST AMERICAN MAN – the true story of the modern day woodsman Eustace Conway. 
Elizabeth is best known, however for her 2006 memoir EAT PRAY LOVE, which chronicled her journey alone around the world, looking for solace after a difficult divorce. The book was an international bestseller, translated into over thirty languages, with over 10 million copies sold worldwide. In 2010, EAT PRAY LOVE was made into a film starring Julia Roberts. The book became so popular that Time Magazine named Elizabeth as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.
In 2010, Elizabeth published a follow-up to EAT PRAY LOVE called COMMITTED—a memoir which explored her ambivalent feelings about the institution of marriage. 
Elizabeth Gilbert lives in the small river town of Frenchtown, New Jersey, where she and her husband (more widely known as “That Brazilian Guy From EAT PRAY LOVE”) run a large and delightful imports store called TWO BUTTONS.

The biographical information and photo used in this post are with thanks to the following websites, where you can also find more information about the author and her writing. 


  1. I wasn't a fan of Eat Pray Love either, but I keep hearing great things about this one! I think I'll have to check it out.

    1. Oh yes do Melissa, it cannot be compared to Eat, Pray, Love. In a different class of writing altogether and well worth reading.

  2. Thank you for reviewing this - I had the same reaction to Eat, Pray, Love and so had "written her off" as an author I would read again. This review changes that for me.

    1. I am so pleased with your response Laura, as I feel this novel is in a different class of writing compared to 'Eat Pray, Love'

  3. Did not really enjoy Eat Pray Love so I'm a little leery about this.

  4. Great review LindyLou - any chance of adding it to the Books You Loved May collectin over at Carole's Chatter? Cheers

    1. Sorry I was away Carole so never got round to adding for May.


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