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 have read three books by Liz Gilbert. I loved, loved, loved EAT, PRAY, LOVE and read it twice. But I have not enjoyed the two books that followed it, I am sorry to say. Liz Gilbert can turn a phrase beautifully at times and employ great metaphors as well as tackle interesting topics. Yet, I did not enjoy this novel and had a hard time finishing it. She took on a noble and challenging theme but it did not capture my attention. I felt compelled to complete the book in spite of that. The narrator was very good, but I found her style too monotone and the characters not differentiated enough. I almost did not write this review because I wanted to honor the time and effort put in to writing the book and narrating it. It may be true in this case that if I have very little nice to say, I should say nothing at all. It is so much easier to be critical of a book than it is to write or to narrate it. This is simply my subjective opinion. Clearly, many other readers felt quite differently about it.
The performance was perfect. In fact hearing Juliet's voice now, I can't even imagine trying to read it on my own with the the voice in my head. She really brought the book alive - made the story what it is to me.
Alma. Her humanity.
I enjoy historical fiction, humor, and biographies. I listen to my Audible books as I drive in my car or on my IPhone.
This book was broken into 3 parts. I do believe it could have been written in one part completely.
Interesting book about mosses and history. However, the storyline really didn't go anywhere.
She has good range and was pleasant to listen to
Interesting look into the period
The narrator is fantastic. As a woman of science, I found this book wonderful. I wished I had been able to meet Alma Whittaker
So...you're telling me I can pay people to read books to me whilst I do other things?
On the whole, I love the premise and execution of this story--the details and historical context were a true pleasure from beginning to end. And, much as I hate to admit it (I'm one of those Eat, Pray, Love eye-rollers), the overall message was pretty inspiring.
The only thing that bothered me was--excellent as Juliet Stevenson is--why this book was narrated in a British accent. Stevenson's Dutch accents are wonderful, but her American accents seemed all wrong for the period--flat and nasal when educated northeastern Americans like Alma, Prudence, Retta and Ambrose in the early- to late-1800's would arguably have sounded more British than the weird regional twang Stevenson was channeling.
I'm being very picky here because Stevenson is such a pro--this is definitely not a huge issue with this book, because the actual dialogue-to-narrative ratio is actually pretty miniscule, but this is an ambitious novel and the heroine and setting are distinctly American, so I definitely felt a little dissonance whenever the native-born American characters started talking.
Historical, thoughtful, and meaningful
I loved the history. The story was written with such intelligence, and I loved the readers English accent. She did a wonderful job presenting all the characters in the book. Excellent!
Alma travelling to, and in the cave with "Tomorrow Morning"
Yes, when she had to get used to living on the island. Her first day there was quite colorful!
The book was sad, but happy too. It pulled at me all the way through. Alma's life was full, but sometimes tragic. Excellent story!
She is remarkable.
When I got to the end. Finally......If it were not for Julia Stevenson I would have stopped reading.
I thought the book was going to be about botany. It had great elements: Joseph Banks, early plant collections, pharmaceutical uses, study of mosses...but the characters were off-putting and not particularly engaging...and the sections on "quim" and possible homosexuality seemed overdone. There was an opportunity to explore spirituality through androgony that wasn't fully realized. Nor was the section on abolitionism satisfyingly explored. The antiquated language and mores of the times were well done.
The arrival of Tomorrow Morning and Alma's introduction to him.
Much of the binding closet.
The book is of large scope and to be commended. It whetted curiosity but just didn't satisfy it.
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