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
This book was so many things...epic, sad, funny, educational, weird, creepy, and gruesome. A strange description for the life of a wealthy, mostly spinster, botanist spanning the 19th century. Elizabeth Gilbert certainly has an incredible imagination and a beautiful way with words. And, the narrator for the audiobook, Juliet Stevenson, was spot on. The main character was an intriguing mix of brilliance and innocence with real human flaws. And, yet, I just didn't form a bond with her. In addition, I found the communication issues with all the various players, which lead to devastating life choices, frustrating. This is what kept this sweeping and unusual novel from being a 5 star book, for me.
I love Juliet Stevenson as a performer and normally try to listen to everything she is reading. Saying all that, I had my reservations about this book (due to author who I don't normally like) but purchased it only because of the performer. I was pleasantly surprised in the beginning. The story was developing really well and the first part was down right enjoyable. It went down hill after that. The story is weak, characters are not developed, in short, a disappointment. Only because I love Juliet Stevenson, I will finish the story. Otherwise, I would not bother.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and the narrator made it an exceptional listen. It's a family saga, told from the daughter's point of view, and recounts her life and adventures through the 1800's. It is also an unusual tale of a strong, well educated woman of this time period, who has maximum freedom to live a life that few women could at the time. I did question some of Gilbert's choices in Alma's life and it's certainly not a happy, fairy tale type of story, but nonetheless, it is well researched and beautifully told.
Alma is such an odd character but you are made to feel a kinship with her almost from the very start. I had a hard time turning off this recording for even short amounts of time - while it is not a fast-paced story, I was intrigued enough to want to stay by Alma's side throughout. This was a unique look at a most memorable character and quite an enjoyable listen.
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 was really interested in the themes that Gilbert was exploring, and there were several that ran together to form one sweeping novel. However, I felt the book was tedious. There was an awful lot of narration and at some points I really wasn't interested in what happened to the characters. I pushed through it because I rarely opt to not finish a book, but it was boring at times.
It’s fiction but educational - about historical botany developments.
At times it felt more like a textbook biography than fiction. There’s a lot of narrative. She did this. She felt that. Those parts could have used a little more dialogue or action. That’s what I’m used to in fiction. Still, it was enjoyable and thought provoking.
The beginning is about Henry Whittaker and how he built his wealth in the plant industry - like growing trees in a new location to produce malaria medicine. He was born in England and later moved to Pennsylvania. The rest of the story is his daughter Alma - following her entire life. She was born in 1800. She had an excellent scientific mind. She studied plants and mosses. She wanted to love a man, but that was unlikely due to her large size and unpleasant appearance.
The “signature of all things” is the idea that God provides plants to help or heal the human body - with clues. For example: the walnut helps the brain and looks like a brain. A plant that helps the liver has leaves that look like a liver. Other subjects in the story are Darwin’s theory of evolution, survival of the fittest, human altruism, and self sacrifice.
There were two sadnesses in the book. One, the story follows Alma to the end of her life. And that by definition is always sad - one’s life ends. The other sadness was something Alma always wanted but never got. I felt sad for her, but there was also a lot of wonderful in this story.
One of the most important things in books is characters. That was great here. It was fascinating how different Prudence and Alma were. Prudence was so odd - and her choices and actions odd. Ambrose was unique - special. Henry’s life was not typical. Alma was interesting throughout. And other characters provided more variety. This is not “we’ve heard it before.” This is a unique collection of characters.
I was unhappy and frustrated with one part. Alma asked a man questions about his actions and relationship with Ambrose. Those were important questions. The man did not give direct answers. He gave vague answers and I had to ASSUME things. I did not like assuming. I wanted the author to tell me specifics - what, how, and why things happened. I wanted to KNOW that story, and I did not get it.
There are illustrations in the book that are not available for the audiobook. The publisher should have made a pdf file of these pictures - for audiobook buyers to download.
There were several sex scenes of someone pleasuring oneself. Those were briefly described, not a lot of detail. There were also references to men with men; they were told, not shown.
The narrator Juliet Stevenson was fine. However I never got used to the way she said “Tahiti.” Her pronunciation might be typical British, but every time she said it, I felt off in a way that brought me out of the story.
Genre: historical fiction
I love to listen to audio books
This book has a very week plot. It is about a woman you meet upon her birth and follow her through her life into spinsterhood. I could not wait for it to end so I could listen to something new.
The forgotten Garden
I thought Juliet Stephenson did a wonderful job narrating given the material she had to read..
Was when you found out that her adopted sister was in love with same man she was many years after her adopted sister sacrificed her relationship with the young man so her could marry her. He marries neither sister.
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.
This narrator is fantastic with voices - while I didn't have the print version, I really enjoyed it as audio.
I enjoyed the sweeping scope of the story, and the way that all the details of Alma's life matter. We are treated to the careful consideration of how she becomes the woman she does, and how she is sometimes a product of her times, and how she sometimes rises above her times. I missed her when I was finished!
I love the way Elizabeth Gilbert's mind works. This book is deliberate and thorough in its examinations and explanations, but I never found it tedious.
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