The Signature of All Things: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, Oct 1 2013
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Praise for The Signature of All Things
“Gilbert has established herself as a straight-up storyteller who dares us into adventures of worldly discovery, and this novel stands as a winning next act. The Signature of All Things is a bracing homage to the many natures of genius and the inevitable progress of ideas, in a world that reveals its best truths to the uncommonly patient minds.”—Barbara Kingsolver, The New York Times Book Review
“[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.”—Steve Almond, 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.”—Alexandra Alter, The Wall Street Journal
“A radiant novel…that rare literary achievement, a big, panoramic novel about life and love…Like Victor Hugo or Emile Zola, Gilbert captures something important about the wider world in The Signature of All Things: a pivotal moment in history when progress defined us in concrete ways.”—Marie Arana, The Washington Post
“A delightful book…one of the best of the year…Gilbert marries the technical, cultural and spiritual with a warm, frankly funny wit… This kind of storytelling is rare – one in which an author can depict the particulars of a moss colony as skillfully as she maps the landscape of the human heart.”—Lizzie Skurnick, “All Things Considered,” NPR
“Gilbert’s sumptuous third novel, her first in thirteen years, draws openly on nineteenth-century forebears: Dickens, Eliot, and Henry James…Gilbert’s prose is by turns flinty, funny, and incandescent.”—The New Yorker
“Engrossing…The Signature of All Things is one of those rewardingly fact-packed books that make readers feel bold and smart by osmosis. Alma commits her life to ceaseless study, but reading this vibrant, hot-blooded book about her takes no work at all.” —Janet Maslin, The New York Times
“Gilbert has mulled, from the confines of her desk, the correlations of nature, the principle that connects a grain of sand to a galaxy, to create a character who does the same – who makes the study of existence her life’s purpose. And in doing so, she has written the novel of a lifetime.”—O, The Oprah Magazine
“A fabulous read…Gilbert has returned to fiction with a boisterous historical novel about a 19th-century botanist named Alma Whittaker…Alma’s fabulous brain is a hot pot of scientific knowledge, lonely feminist turmoil and erotic longing. All of which makes her an irresistible character to accompany through history and around the world.”—Helen Rogan, People
“Raucously ingenious…Signature is not just a historical novel that spans two centuries and many geographies…I found unshackled joy on every page…a novel of brave and lovely ideas.”—Beth Kephart, The Chicago Tribune
About the Author
Look out for Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, on sale now! Gilbert is the #1 New York Times bestselling author ofEat Pray Love and several other internationally bestselling books of fiction and nonfiction. She began her career writing for Harper's Bazaar, Spin, The New York Times Magazine and GQ, and was a three-time finalist for the National Magazine Award. Her story collection Pilgrims was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway award;The Last American Man was a finalist for both the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. The follow-up memoir Committed became an instant #1 New York Times bestseller. Her latest novel, The Signature of All Things, was named a Best Book of 2013 by The New York Times, O Magazine, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, and The New Yorker. Gilbert’s short fiction has appeared in Esquire, Story, One Story, and the Paris Review.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
From her mother Alma learned many languages and from her father much about botany and how to grow mosses. She became something of an expert on the latter and had books published on their development, cultivation and categorisation. She marries late and the marriage is a failure, but when her father dies Alma decides to retrace her husband’s footsteps to Tahiti and to seek out the truth about the contents of his mysterious valise. This is truly a voyage of discovery which takes her to strange places, not all of which are charted.
When Alma arrives back in her mother’s hometown of Amsterdam she is reunited with her maternal family. She reads of Darwin’s theories of evolution which accord with many of her own ideas and observations. She finds a kindred spirit in Alfred Russell Wallace who has also developed many theories similar to her own but has also never solved the evolutionary explanation for human altruism and self sacrifice.
This is an extraordinary novel of an evolving century, encapsulated in the unlikely form of Alma Whittaker. It is, itself, a voyage of discovery rather than arrival, slow moving rather than pacey and perhaps a little on the lengthy side for my personal preferences. However, it is certainly a thought provoking read.
The subtext (if not the theme) of the book is evolution, both biological and sociological, and I think the reason Gilbert went into so much detail, however well-crafted and entertaining, was to demonstrate various aspects of evolution - or the resolute lack thereof - in of each of her characters. Thus we follow the lives of Alma, her father, her mother, Prudence, the insane friend, the insane husband, the Tahitian missionary, the Tahitian missionary's son, et. al. And I'm just getting started. Even Roger the dog evolves in order to triumph at life. Okay, I'm kidding about him. Sort of.
I'm not going to describe the entire book. Plenty of other readers will do that. However, I will say that there is a transcendent scene toward the end, when Alma and another scientist/big thinker debate the evolutionary logic of altruism. I was entranced by this unanswerable question and their discussion of it. However, that was just the icing on the cake. The main takeaway of the story, for me, was that we all have a chance to live our biggest life possible, if only we try as hard as we can and never, never let ourselves weaken. It's an empowering theme. I recommend this book, with the caveat that the evolved reader manage its length by discreetly skimming, thus saving her energy for the rest of life's battles.
Most recent customer reviews
Great story, just read it. I have recommended it to my book group, it should lead to a good discussion.Published 4 months ago by Rowan
I was surprised (having read Eat, Pray, Love) what wonderful writer Gilbert really is (which perhaps didn't come through in the somewhat trite Eat Pray etc). Read morePublished 4 months ago by Violetta Ilkiw
Eat Pray Love was one of my favourite books but I struggled to get through this one and it left me feeling I'd wasted a lot of time by the end of itPublished 6 months ago by R&B Bracebridge, Ontario
I really loved getting to know Alma Whittaker and all of her family. The questions she wrestled with are still poignant and I loved her inner thought process. Read morePublished 6 months ago by Sarah Cipkar
I had mixed feelings about this book. The characters are fascinating and the story meanders in a really unexpected and interesting way. Read morePublished 9 months ago by Didi