Review: The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

Title: The Signature of All Things

Author: Elizabeth Gilbert

Published: Bloomsbury October 2013

Status: Read from October 15 to 17, 2013 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

I wrote a brief but scathing review of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love so when The Signature of All Things arrived unsolicited I wasn’t enthusiastic. When it finally reached the top of my review stack, I was willing to attempt it but I was fully expecting I would put it aside after a few chapters. However, to my surprise, I found The Signature Of All Things fascinating reading and was reluctant to put it down.

Unfolding over a century from the late 1700’s, The Signature of All Things is a fictional portrait of a remarkable woman and her extraordinary life. Alma Whittaker was born in 1800, the only surviving child of an austere Dutch mother and a father defined by his ambition and entrepreneurial talents. Blessed with rare intelligence, Henry and Beatrix ‘encouraged a spirit of investigation in their daughter’, and with the family seat of White Acre in Philadelphia offering endless opportunity for education, eventually developed a passion for the study of botany.

While The Signature of All Things follows Alma’s path of scientific exploration and curiosity, leading to a specific interest in Bryology (mosses) it also examines themes of family, love, philosophy, faith and loss. Alma’s life’s journey is absorbing in both its ordinary and extraordinary unraveling. She is challenged by her parent’s adoption of a sister, Prudence, a friendship with the mercurial Retta, dashed romantic dreams, and the deaths of her parents. She struggles to understand her emotional and sexual desires and to resolve her shortcomings, to find personal fulfillment and finally to define her worth to the world at large.

The writing of The Signature of All Things is lovely, with the tempo and elegance of the historical period. Gilbert’s research is impressive, I don’t have a green thumb at all but even so I was fascinated by the botanical information imparted during the story. My interest really only wavered during the time Alma spent in Tahiti, thankfully a brief interlude in what is otherwise a beautifully crafted novel.

Intriguing, thought provoking and moving, The Signature of All Things is a compelling novel of historical fiction. I recommend you forgive Gilbert the conceit of Eat, Pray, Love and pick this up.

Available to Purchase From

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16 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. booksaremyfavouriteandbest
    Oct 22, 2013 @ 17:18:13

    Great review. I must admit that, like you, I have bypassed this book because I detested eat, Pray, Love (actually one of the very few books that I didn’t finish). I found it just so self-absorbed!



  2. Jennie
    Oct 22, 2013 @ 19:01:55

    Even though I haven’t read a Eat, Pray, Love (I only got a few pages in and put it aside where it still sits unread) I loved The Signature of All Things. I was looking forward to seeing what you thought of this one Shelleyrae. Great review.



  3. laurelrainsnow
    Oct 23, 2013 @ 01:42:15

    Since you didn’t enjoy Eat, Pray Love, but have good things to say about this book, I am willing to give it a try. And, to be fair, the writing was never my issue in EPL…it was the total self-absorption…and the gall of someone with resources to whine and complain…don’t get me started! LOL



  4. Leeswammes
    Oct 23, 2013 @ 04:31:21

    I loved Eat, Pray, Love, and I also read another book by Gilbert that I enjoyed. I’m not sure about the historical fiction aspect, but I think I’ll try this too.



  5. Mari @ Bookworm with a View
    Oct 25, 2013 @ 13:02:15

    oh thank goodness! I have this on my ipad, started it earlier this month but had to put everything down for a while (life getting in the way). Now I know what I’m going to read this weekend.



  6. Jo @ Booklover Book Reviews
    Oct 25, 2013 @ 20:39:17

    Great review Shelleyrae… I recently finished this title too, review coming soon. I was impressed also, the writing is wonderful. The story, while not 5 stars, is very engrossing.



  7. Elizabeth
    Oct 29, 2013 @ 05:08:47

    I never read Eat, Pray, Love. Glad this book is better.

    It sounds terrific…thanks for your wonderful review.

    Silver’s Reviews
    My It’s Monday, What Are You Reading



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  11. pumpkin
    Dec 29, 2013 @ 03:08:17

    I thought Eat Pray Love was a bit of a romp and possibly needed for certain women of the day. Gilbert did what many women might have liked to do but didn’t have the opportunity. I am very interested in Botany so looked forward to reading SIgnature of All Things. I was so disappointed. It read like a Mills and Boon. Versy soon it built up to a romance. I mainly had trouble with the contemporary voice. The narrator was intrusive. By page 90 we had masturbation … later on we had every ‘Gone With the WInd’ twist one could think of to include in a blockbuster. Very disappointed that an editor didn’t spend time with Gilbert working on a more authentic voice and style. Lazy hasty crafting from my point of view.



  12. Roostandrights
    Feb 25, 2014 @ 11:43:06

    Just finished reading the book and found your review online.
    Like you I had my bias having been quite put off by EPL. This book was eminently readable, the author obviously well researched and telling a modest but wonderfully rendered story of a family.

    Then It all went badly off the rails, pretentious, over-stuffed, a self-important book, over-reaching in all directions.

    I must confess to feeling let down. Gilbert can really write and she had a tale to tell and complete. I was left with too much information about characters I could care les about and to little about those so central, like Prudence.



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