LONGLISTED FOR THE BAILEYS WOMEN'S PRIZE FOR FICTION
SHORTLISTED FOR THE WELLCOME BOOK PRIZE
From the moment Alma Whittaker steps into the world, everything about life intrigues her. Instilled with an unquenchable sense of wonder by her father, a botanical explorer and the richest man in the New World, Alma is raised in a house of luxury and curiosity. It is not long before she becomes a gifted botanist in her own right. But as she flourishes and her research takes her deeper into the mysteries of evolution, the man she comes to love draws her in the opposite direction – into the realm of the spiritual, the divine and the magical.
The Signature of All Things soars across the globe of the nineteenth century, from London and Peru, to Philadelphia, Tahiti and beyond. Peopled with extraordinary characters along the way, most of all it has an unforgettable heroine in Alma Whittaker.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
The new novel from the author of Eat, Pray, Love is a sprawling historical tale set in the 19th century. Gilbert’s wonderful heroine, Alma Whittaker, has been groomed to be a scientist but falls in love with an artist fascinated with spirituality and magic. This exceptional novel teems with memorable characters.
After 13 years as a memoirist, Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love) has returned to fiction, and clearly she s reveling in all its pleasures and possibilities. The Signature of All Things is a big, old-fashioned story that spans continents and a century. It has an omniscient narrator who can deploy (never heavy-handedly) a significant amount of research into the interconnected fields of late 18th- and early 19th-century botany, botanical drawing, spiritual inquiry, exploration, and, eventually, the development of the theory of evolution. The story begins with Henry Whittaker, at first poor on the fringes of England s Kew Gardens, but in the end the richest man in Philadelphia. In more detail, the story follows Henry s daughter, Alma. Born in 1800, Alma learns Latin and Greek, understands the natural world, and reads everything in sight. Despite her wealth and education, Alma is a woman, and a plain one at that, two facts that circumscribe her opportunities. Resigned to spinsterhood, ashamed and tormented by her erotic desires, Alma finds a late-in-life soul mate in Ambrose Pike, a talented botanical illustrator and spiritualist. Characters crisscross the world to make money, to learn, and, in Alma s case, to understand not just science but herself and her complicated relationship with Ambrose. Eventually Alma, who studies moss, enters into the most important scientific discussions of the time. Alma is a prodigy, but Gilbert doesn t cheat: her life is unlikely but not impossible, and for readers traveling with Henry from England to the Andes to Philadelphia, and then with Alma from Philadelphia to Tahiti to Holland, there is much pleasure in this unhurried, sympathetic, intelligent novel by an author confident in her material and her form.
Customer ReviewsSee All
The Signature of All Things
Maybe not an easy read. I found it hard work at times. But worth hanging in there. It's encouraging and inspiring.
History, nature and science
A wonderful, historic read that takes us on a journey of extremes, natural science and discovery. THE life of Henry Whittaker is fascinating. I could not put this book down and with the hint of eroticism threaded through, the book keeps you alive and feeling slightly mischievous. Brilliant book with delightful prose and mindfully crafted.
Beautifully Told Story of an Extraordinary Life
This book had everything that I love about an engaging and engrossing novel. An imperfect, complex and immensely admirable female protagonist. Set against an exceptionally well researched and fascinating historical background. Science, ocean voyages and moss.
Just read it and savour every wonderful minute.