A glorious, sweeping novel of desire, ambition, and the thirst for knowledge, from the number-one New York Times best-selling author of Eat, Pray, Love and Committed
In The Signature of All Things, Elizabeth Gilbert returns to fiction, inserting her inimitable voice into an enthralling story of love, adventure, and discovery. Spanning much of the 18th and 19th centuries, the novel follows the fortunes of the extraordinary Whittaker family as led by the enterprising Henry Whittaker - a poor-born Englishman who makes a great fortune in the South American quinine trade, eventually becoming the richest man in Philadelphia.
Born in 1800, Henry's brilliant daughter, Alma (who inherits both her father's money and his mind), ultimately becomes a botanist of considerable gifts herself. As Alma's research takes her deeper into the mysteries of evolution, she falls in love with a man named Ambrose Pike who makes incomparable paintings of orchids and who draws her in the exact opposite direction - into the realm of the spiritual, the divine, and the magical. Alma is a clear-minded scientist; Ambrose a utopian artist - but what unites this unlikely couple is a desperate need to understand the workings of this world and the mechanisms behind all life.
Exquisitely researched and told at a galloping pace, The Signature of All Things soars across the globe - from London to Peru to Philadelphia to Tahiti to Amsterdam, and beyond. Along the way, the story is peopled with unforgettable characters: missionaries, abolitionists, adventurers, astronomers, sea captains, geniuses, and the quite mad. But most memorable of all, it is the story of Alma Whittaker, who - born in the Age of Enlightenment, but living well into the Industrial Revolution - bears witness to that extraordinary moment in human history when all the old assumptions about science, religion, commerce, and class were exploding into dangerous new ideas. Written in the bold, questing spirit of that singular time, Gilbert's wise, deep, and spellbinding tale is certain to capture the hearts and minds of listeners.
©2013 Elizabeth Gilbert (P)2013 Penguin Audio
"Juliet Stevenson's face would be instantly familiar to Anglophiles everywhere, especially those with a penchant for British TV (her films include "Truly Madly Deeply" and "Drowning by Numbers"), but she's also a first-class narrator…. Stevenson conveys the sense that the hand on the wheel is firm and certain and that the reader may lean back in perfect confidence that neither journey nor destination will disappoint." (Laura Miller, Salon)
“Gilbert's triumphant return to fiction is matched by Juliet Stevenson's lyrical reading. Both author and narrator capture the listener from the novel's opening words.” (AudioFile)
"[A] rip-roaring tale… Its prose has the elegant sheen of a 19th-century epic, but its concerns — the intersection of science and faith, the feminine struggle for fulfillment, the dubious rise of the pharmaceutical industry — are essentially modern." (The New York Times Magazine)
"The most ambitious and purely imaginative work in Gilbert’s 20-year career: a deeply researched and vividly rendered historical novel about a 19th century female botanist.” (The Wall Street Journal)
I loved the growth and development of the characters.
The heartbreak Alma felt when she found out that her husband didn't want the kind of marriage that she did.
No. I dragged it out as long as I could. I didn't want it to end.
I will look for more books by this author and read by Juliet Stevenson.
Hi all. I'm in my 50's (that's relevant, i think), and I favor fiction. I like the british sensibility, and was introduced to the Forsyte Saga through audible ... loved it! I happen to also like Chinese writers, but they are not well represented yet at audible. Looking to follow readers with similar tastes ...
This book is very unusual and creative ( as one would expect from the author of "eat, pray, love"). Definitely exotic and a bit esoteric. I have to say, however, that I enjoyed it more while I was reading it than now in retrospect. I enjoyed the exotic forays -- both emotional and locational --?more than the central premise. So, I give this one 4 stars.
I listen to this book at work and can't wait for Monday morning! The detail really makes the story come together. An educational, insightful story that has my full attention.
I adored "Eat, Pray, Love", and expected Elizabeth Gilbert's characteristic zest and presence to carry over into fiction. I'm sorry to say that the 'voice' of the author seemed impersonal and distant in this book. She just didn't seem engaged in the story, which made it hard for me to be engaged as well. I stuck it out for several hours, but eventually moved on.
Book never got to a strong or happy place. Just defeat after defeat. All voices male and female sounded same. Very disappointed.
The Dog Mom
Sometimes a historical fiction novel so dazzles a reader that a brief review does not do it justice. Such is the case with The Signature of All Things, but here goes . . .
This book captivating me for myriad reasons: the writing is beautiful - more like poetry than prose; the story is profound, complex, elaborate and spellbinding, in a quiet, sneaks-up-on-you way and the characters are beyond memorable - they wend their way into one's heart and mind. I don't recall a book that I've read in the past 10 years that made me cry for sadness for its characters.
The research that surely went into writing this book is hard to comprehend. It is detailed in its descriptions of those things botanical included in it (and these are numerous), yet never tedious or boring.
I apologize to Ms. Gilbert, whose book, Eat, Pray, Love I read and enjoyed. However, it never occurred to me that she was a writer of such magnitude to produce this remarkable piece of fiction.
The narration by Juliet Stevenson is perfect! She is beyond gifted in her ability to breathe life into Gilbert's characters.
This is a book of beauty, that unfolds slowly and elegantly, then keeps the reader in its clutches in a completely enchanting way. It is not a read for everyone, to be sure, but was a great treasure for me.
The romantic life of Alma Whitaker--some romance in the conventional sense, but more the romance of loving one's mind, of scientific engagement with the natural world, and, I would say, with family. Alma is a wonderful heroine to spend time with and Gilbert is a felicitous writer who imagines her worlds vividly. This audiobook was mostly well read by Juliet Stevenson--occasionally I'd find her rendering of a character jarring, but really the 4-star rating should be 4.75. Much of the way through I couldn't put it down or, more exactly, I'd loiter at the end of my walks unable to press stop.
Sprawling novel covering 80 years of Alma Whittaker's life.....
Definitely Alma Whittaker, and Ambrose Pike
No, this was my first, but I have now purchased another of hers, The Paying Guests
Definitely worth the cost of this book, a bit long for some maybe, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.
I love action and suspense embedded in a good fantasy or mystery. Sprinkles of romance okay, but no erotica please.
I felt like I was watching an artist paint, stroke by loving stroke, unique and fascinating characters onto an exquisite landscape. I laughed and I cried. I also enjoyed learning more about Botany and Gilbert's take on Darwinism. I loved the idea that God provides plants to help or heal the human body--with visual clues, such as a walnut looks like a brain and helps the brain. This book is amazing work; I don't know how she did it, but hats off to her!
P.S. Warning, it does get a bit sad and depressing in some places, but I managed to push through those parts. However, since I hate to feel depressed even for a moment I did mark it down a point.
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