Books Magazine

Book Review: The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

By Joyweesemoll @joyweesemoll

Book: The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
Genre: Novel
Publisher: Viking
Publication date: 2013
Pages: 501

Source: Library

Summary: Alma Whittaker is a 19th century woman with extraordinary opportunities and gifts, but equally unusual challenges and barriers. The Signature of All Things takes us on a journey through her world, populated by strong characters and intertwined with adventures, large and small.

cover of The Signature of All Things

A novel about history and botany was bound to appeal to me.

Thoughts: I was always going to check out this book, eventually, since I loved both Eat, Pray, Love and Committed. But I wasn’t paying much attention to  it until Jehara posted the book trailer on her blog during the Read-a-Thon in October. When I realized that The Signature of All Things was about botanical explorers, a topic that fascinates me, I knew that I wanted to get to it sooner rather than later.

I get a kick out of the occasional wink from the author to the reader, especially if it happens early in the book before it would be obtrusive in this story. The first paragraph of Chapter One, coming right after the introduction which features Alma’s birth, gives a good example of the slightly detached, but good-humored, narrative voice:

For the first five years of her life, Alma Whittaker was indeed a mere passenger in the world–as we all are passengers in such early youth–and so her story was not yet noble, nor was it particularly interesting, beyond the fact that this homely toddler passed her days without illness or incident, surrounded by a degree of wealth nearly unknown in the America of that time, even within elegant Philadelphia. How her father came to be in possession of such great wealth is a story worth telling here, while we wait for the girl to grow up and catch our interest again. (p. 7)

As I mentioned yesterday, I’ve been slowly making my way through this thick book during the two weeks I’ve had it checked out of the library. It’s overdue now. Time to get it back, but I wasn’t quite half-way through the book. I could have turned it in and re-requested it later (wouldn’t be the first time) or bought a copy (the e-book wouldn’t be too expensive and I could have it immediately, but I don’t do well with large e-books). Instead, I spent the whole day reading and I finished it.

What a lovely way to spend a Sunday! I went almost all the way around the world at a time when dangerous sea voyages were the only way to travel. I met amazing characters with interesting 19th-century careers — botanical illustrator, printing press operator, abolitionist, sailor, missionary, fisherman, research garden director. At my side for all of this was Alma Whittaker who is smart and dedicated, spirited and flawed, liberated and trapped.

Reviews: I’m glad to see that other book bloggers like The Signature of All Things. I was a little worried that my background in amateur botany (I used to be good enough to lead winter hikes teaching people how to identify trees by the bark) and interest in botanical explorers gave this book a greater appeal to me than it would other readers. But it turns out that you don’t need that background to like this book:

  • Shelleyrae Cusbert of Book’d Out claims not to have a green thumb, but still enjoyed The Signature of All Things.
  • Sam Still Reading appreciated learning more about botany and other things through this novel.
  • Cornflower Books does know a thing or two about plants, but the short review is so lovely that I couldn’t resist linking to it.

Have you read this book? What did you think?
Signature of Joy Weese Moll

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