The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

Isignature received an advanced copy of this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Elizabeth Gilbert is well known for her memoir Eat, Pray, Love or so I assume, but sadly I haven’t read the book yet. I’ve seen the movie and it wasn’t half bad. I would also assume that when talking about this author, most would know her by the EPL success.  With The Signature of All Things, Gilbert brings us fiction and tells the story of an extraordinary woman called Alma Whittaker. The story plays off mostly in the 19th century, but starts at the end of the 18th century telling us some background on Alma’s father, Henry, a botanical importer who was extremely wealthy. Her mother Beatrix, a Dutchwoman, was very strict in Alma’s upbringing and as a result of this education in their household was very important. Suffice to say, Alma was a girl/woman of superior intelligence, but unfortunately she was a very plain girl or “homely” as her father called her and she was jealous of her adopted sister, Prudence who was beautiful.

Alma lost interest in marriage after the man she was in love with married another woman. Thereafter she decides to study and start a scientific exploration of mosses, which spanned over long time until she met a man called Ambrose Pike. He was a spiritual being and Alma fell in love with him, married him and only later found out, after not consummating their marriage for weeks that theirs was, according to Ambrose, a “marriage of souls”. This exasperated Alma! She married him at 48 and even though she was an old married woman, she was still a virgin. She banished him to Tahiti and went on with her life and to take care of her ailing father. After she found out about his death, she also found out some disturbing information about her late husband. She set off to Tahiti after her father’s death to find out the truth.

Her study of mosses lead her to later write an essay about natural selection, but she never published it, even though her uncle persisted. She then found out that Darwin beat her to it – he published the exact same theory that she did. However her reason for not publishing her theory is that she knew her theory had a whole in it as she couldn’t explain how altruism fit into her theory. The behavior such as her sister Prudence’s, who gave up the love of her life because she knew Alma loved him too.

My thoughts on the book? For the most part I truly enjoyed it, but I became less interested in the story when the storyline moved to where she was in Tahiti, as I found it slightly boring. Regardless, I cannot deny that the research was done well and Alma’s story was fascinating. She didn’t find herself to be particularly interesting (“She was a virgin and a widow and an orphan and an heiress and an old lady and an absolute fool”), but I surely did!

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  • Jan

    I’m just not sure about this one. I did like Eat, Pray, Love but I’m not sure this would hold my interest. She is a good writer though so maybe I’ll just wait till it’s out in paperback.

    • I want to read Eat, Pray, Love! Well you can see how it goes, if you have time next year, you can give this one a try…

  • I enjoyed EPL, though the middle (the pray part) dragged for me way too much. This sounds interesting-maybe in the New Year. Great review!

    • Hope you enjoy it if you read it! I want to read EPL though, so I will let you know what I think of the book.

  • I think I’d kind of ignored this book’s blurbs and reviews because I haven’t read Eat Pray Love yet, but this sounds absolutely right up my alley! Thanks for opening my eyes, Melinda!

    • You’re welcome! I also didn’t think the blurbs were interesting (not to my taste) but I picked it because of the fact that I liked EPL and want to read it, so I thought let me give her fiction a try first. I don’t regret requesting it, it really was a nice book!

  • I haven’t read EPL either, nor seen the movie, but I enjoyed this book very much. She’s a good writer. I agree with you that the Tahiti part was a bit overlong, but on the whole the book was well-deserving of the hype, I thought.

    • It definitely was a nice read! I will go browse for your review, Nish…

  • I’m listening to this one now (the audio production is outstanding!) and am at the point where Alma is in Tahiti. Must admit that I was loving the book, but am getting a little bored with this section. Hope it picks up again soon…

    • It will pick up soon 🙂 Enjoy listening to the book and I will look out for your review!

  • I didn’t love EPL so was leery about this but have decided Gilbert is better at fiction than non-fiction. At least for me! I agree, though, it went a bit long.

    • I will have to read EPL then so I can see what you mean 🙂

  • This is one that I think I’ll skip. I was bored to tears reading Eat Pray Love. It was underwhelming for me for sure.

    • Oh no! I will still read Eat Pray Love, because I liked the movie.

  • I still have this book on my TBR. In a way I am curious enough 🙂 thanks for sharing your thoughts!!

    • You’re welcome, Ciska! I know you have the book. Looking forward to hear your thoughts 🙂

  • This is on my TBR list. I enjoyed EPL. 😀 I hope you do get around to reading it. Nice review!

    • Thanks Ricki. I will read EPL soon 🙂

  • Gilbert has huge name recognition, is an entertaining author, and she’s probably done a fair amount of research to pull off her “scientific exploration of mosses” but when it comes to scientific knowledge, my vote goes for Diane Ackerman, a naturalist par excellence. I’ve enjoyed her Cultivating Delight: A Natural History of My Garden & looking forward to The Zookeeper’s Wife, on my to-read list.

    • Thanks for the recommendations, Marian! I’m off to goodreads to read more about Diane….

  • I think Gilbert is fascinating. I love her Ted Talks “lecture” about creativity–if you haven’t watched it before, you need to! I don’t know if this book is really up my alley, but parts of it do sound interesting. Thanks for the review

    • Thanks for recommendation, Chelsea!

  • I’m finding it hard to want to read her books after seeing the Eat, Pray, Love movie. Just not my cup of tea. I did request this on NetGalley, figured if I got it free I’d be more willing, but they still haven’t said yes or no yet.

    • I hope you get an answer soon. Who knows, you might end up enjoying the book.

  • I did enjoy EPL, but even if you did, it should not hold you back from reading this book, since it is completely different.
    Great to see your ideas about the book, Melinda, and I can understand what you say about the part in Tahiti, that is my least favorite bit as well.

    Kind regards,

    • I enjoyed this one for the most part yes and I will read EPL if only out of curiosity!

  • Typing too quick: I meant: even if you did NOT like EPL… (sorry)

  • I read “Eat, Pray, Love” but while I somewhat enjoyed it, it felt like fiction. I’ve traveled a fair amount and a lot of her experiences and insights seemed empty and like they were created while sitting at a desk, not while traveling.
    This book sounds more intriguing… the style of story reminds me of Barbara Kingsolver. I’d be interested to read Elizabeth Gilbert’s voice for fiction.

    • You should give it a try! I haven’t read any Kingsolver, but I have a few of her books. I will have to read one of them. EPL I will read too of course…

  • I’m so on the fence about this one! I was a bit annoyed by Gilbert when I read Eat, Pray, Love, but I keep hearing good things about this one.

    • I need to read Eat Pray Love still. I’ve heard good things, but I’ve also heard some people say they have been either annoyed or bored by it… I will have to see for myself! I hope you will give this one a try.

  • This one is showing up on a lot of best-of lists for 2013 so I’m bound to read it sooner or later. Glad to have more realistic expectations thanks to your review.