Elizabeth Gilbert’s first novel in twelve years is an extraordinary story of botany, exploration and desire, spanning across much of the 19th century. This audiobook follows the fortunes of the brilliant Alma Whittaker (daughter of a bold and charismatic botanical explorer) as she comes into her own within the world of plants and science. As Alma’s careful studies of moss take her deeper into the mysteries of evolution, the man she loves draws her in the opposite direction into the realm of the spiritual, the divine and the magical. Alma is a clear-minded scientist; Ambrose is a Utopian artist. But what unites this couple is a shared passion for knowing, a desperate need to understand the workings of this world, and the mechanism behind of all life. The Signature of All Things is a big novel, about a big century. Exquisitely researched and told at a galloping pace, this story soars across the globe, from London, to Peru, to Philadelphia, to Tahiti, to Amsterdam and beyond. It is told in the bold, questing spirit of that singular time. Alma Whittaker is a witness to history, as well as maker of history herself. She stands on the cusp of the modern, with one foot still in the Enlightened Age, and she is certain to be loved by listeners across the world.
©2013 Elizabeth Gilbert (P)2013 Bolinda Publishing Pty Ltd
This has the sedate, carefully structured, beautifully nuanced atmosphere of a nineteenth century classical novel. Appropriate, since that is the setting. This is underlined by the glorious, melting intelligence of the ever-superb reading of Juliet Stevenson.
This is many novels. Broadly, it is about the British dominating the globe through individual strivings, even personal sacrifices, both at home and abroad. It is relationships and dealing with loneliness (the sexual tension was very well done), family, mandated personal self sufficiency. Life and meaning -- where there is no apparent meaning; and the courage to generate meaning. Each and every character lives.
It is also a novel that reaches over time. It visits the theories of evolution. For those who are comfortable with the conclusions of Darwin and Wallace amongst others, it is a journey into the minds of those who walked this path and wonderfully sympathetic to the limits imposed on Victorian women which denied the full flowering of their brilliance; it is an eloquent sharing of these thought processes for those who continue the doubts of those now long distant times.
It is an introduction to new worlds. I now look at mosses completely differently -- and with real appreciation and curiosity!
The depth and choice of words was awesome. The characters are very interesting individuals and Elizabeth does a really good job of making them come to live. There are surprising twists and turns, I could never guess what would happen next. Though I really admired the strength and resilience of Alma Whittiker, on many instances, I really wished the author would give her break from denying her the most basic emotional support and comforts. At times I felt so sorry for Alma that I would have sent my own husband to her!
None, I think this is the 1st of the kind for me.
The most memorable was in the cave with Tomorrow Morning. It reinforces my earlier comments on the unpredictability of this book. One moment, both Almer and Tomorrow Morning are mourning the death of a man they both loved, the next they shared sexual pleasures! How bizarre - she finds a man that had sex with her man, then she gave him a blowjob too! And funny enough, it felt sweet.
Not really, if I had the time to sit down and read I would have been just as captivated.
When Alma's spirit and will to live overtakes her without warning and she truly takes ownership of her own life.
Wonderfully clear and precise. I think her casting as the voice only added sophistication to the story.
I was that addicted that one sitting was tempting but not possible due to the length of it.
Although it was a novel, the unmistakable voice of Elizabeth Gilbert shines through. Fortunately for me I have always liked Elizabeth Gilbert so I enjoy her immensely. If she annoyed you in all her other pieces of work I suspect she may annoy you in this one too. But I really enjoyed such a quietly rich story of an alternate life to my own.
Little bit crazy but prefer the term eccentric. I am a recluse by nature so I live for my books and the friends I find within their pages.
This story was so unlike anything else Elizabeth Gilbert has written and although I enjoyed her previous work i just loved this story and look forward to listening to it all over again. Great plot development, interesting subject matter and very well narrated. This is my kind of story. I am sorry I can't think of anything to write about the story that wouldn't be 3 pages long and give too much away. It is a family history drama with a botanist's love of plants as the underlying theme. If you listen to the preview you will know if the story is meant for you. If you are expecting something along the lines of Eat, Pray, Love, you will be disappointed.
I have not read the print version, as I don't have time to read books these days. I was concerned I would not be able to follow the story or that it would lose something, but I can only say that Juliet Stevenson has added a polish and gleam to this story that I would not have gotten if I'd read it myself. Her Dutch and Philadelphian accents are superb, as are the dulcet tones of her reading voice. I became like an addict to this story, anticipating the next time I could slide the earphones into my head and tune into this amazing and changing landscape of Alma's life story.
Alma Whittaker is the lead character, and we come to identify strongly with her honesty and her self-questioning mind, but also there are other delightful characters: Henry, Alma's sea-faring fortune seeking rum loving grumpy old father, full of English nostalgia and 'stiff-upper', and Hannaker, Alma's indefatigable Dutch nurse-maid come head house keeper, with her blunted Dutch consonants and sage advice to get on with life, that life is suffering (she was an early Buddhist Llama and had no idea) and that no-one escapes pain of some sort in this life. I want my own "Hannaker De Groot" doll, a plump felt character to keep by my bedside with a string activated voice that soothes "now now Child, you will not die of 'dis" and "hush, dry your tears".
The scenes from Tahiti in the moss cave was my favourite, but every setting comes alive in beautiful detail, no matter whether on a creaky sailing ship or sitting on a mossy rock in the sunlight.
I received an uplifting feeling of heartfelt warmth listening to this story, and it made me reflect in some ways, on my own life. Now that's the mark of a powerful story.
Love it. Not to be missed. Treat yourself.
I haven been listening to audiobooks my entire life and have rarely experienced one as massively pleasurable as The Signature of All Things.
I confess I was somewhat prejudiced against this book. I haven't read Eat, Pray, Love but in my mind Elizabeth Gilbert was just some namby-pamby self help-ish writer. Now I feel embarrassed about that snobbery because, after listening to The Signature of All Things, it's clear that Gilbert is a gifted writer. Several times I was up till the early hours of the morning because I simply COULD NOT press the pause button!
The story is unusual and gripping, a birth to (almost) death novel with one of the most charming and original protagonists I have ever come across. How often does a plain, tall, middle-aged woman, who also happens to be a brilliant botanist and a virgin, get to be the central figure in a novel? I certainly can't think of another like Alma Whitaker! Alma absolutely pulses with life, it's hard to remember that she's a fictional character, she feels just like a friend you've known all your life. Her trials, her joys, her sorrows are completely your own as you listen.
I hadn't read any reviews before I listened to this novel, and I'm glad I didn't because the plot was a constant surprise. I won't give any major plot points here either, suffice to say that this novel is a heady mixture of science, sex, faith, love and adventure. There are minor flaws perhaps, but the sheer joy of this book is such that you feel it couldn't be any other way. Perfect in its imperfections, just like Alma.
An absolute must listen!
Australian, love being read to, love a good story, characters and great writing. Classics are favourites but prepared to be adventurous.
Yes, the people and story are so well drawn and researched, one starts to wonder whether Alma Whittaker had been left out of the pages of botanical history. With links to the discovers of the age, this story delves into evolutionary theory and botanical wonder.
Well researched, historical novel with real insights into the phyc of people in the 1800's
it missed nothing every characters background was given without confusing the listener
Could not stop listening, going back for a second time
Well worth a credit
Juliet Stevenson could read the phone book and make it engrossing. Having 'read' Middlemarch which she was the voice of, I was delighted to find her narrating this. She is a pleasure to listen to and manages all the voices and characters expertly. The book is a curiosity which is ironic as it is all about curiosity, the mind, enquiry and debate. It covers the varied theories and strands do scientific thought in the 1800s through the long life if it's heroine Alma Whittaker. An informative and surprising read.
I would have described this book as a page turner, if it had been a print edition. It was interesting from start to finish, often surprising. But, even though I found this book wonderful from start to finish, it paled in comparison with the the superb narration. I listen to many recorded books and I found that Juliet Stevenson is one of the best narrators I have ever listened to. She is endlessly creative in finding voices for the characters.
Don't miss this reading.
"Sensitively written but ultimately dull"
This isn't badly written. it gives a sensitive portrait of the heroine's life and describes her world - 19th century botany, competently. Unfortunately, after the interesting beginning, I found it dull and, as it proceeded, more dull until I stopped reading just over half way through. It contains little dialogue to enliven it and what dialogue it does contain is in a ponderous style which is anything but enlivening. Maybe people did have dull lives and talk ponderously in the 19th century but the great 19th century novelists managed to make them interesting.
It gives a strong perspective of the problems of a woman suffering from the combination of emotional deprivation and intellectual brilliance. I like that combination. The book also has a mystical angle which may suit some readers more than others. The title is a reference to a real mystical book which can be bought on Amazon.
The theme of the emotionally deprived woman scientist is dealt with much more richly in a couple of other novels I have read. These are The Behaviour of Moths by Poppy Adams and Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver. Both are delightfully multilayered as well as entertaining.
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