THE BLURB (from GoodReads):
A glorious, sweeping novel of desire, ambition, and the thirst for knowledge, from the # 1 New York Times bestselling 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 eighteenth and nineteenth 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 readers.
Somehow I never got caught up in the Eat, Pray, Love fervour – I was busy and it just didn’t sound like my kind of book. Then I met Elizabeth Gilbert at the Perth Writers Festival and she was very warm and personable. Quite a long time later, I asked the twitter-sphere for the most inspiring book on writing or creativity that they had read that year, and dozens of people named Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic. One lovely reader even sent me their copy. So I read Big Magic and liked it a lot. After I blogged about it, a lot of people said to me, ‘oh you must read The Signature of All Things. You’ll love it.’
So I did read it and they were all right. I loved it.
Such a wonderful book! It’s big and deep and clever and wise, telling the story of a brilliant and unconventional woman in the early 19th century. Alma Whittaker was the daughter of the self-made millionaire Henry Whittaker, who made his fortune in the quinine trade. She is fascinated by botany, and studies on her own, developing a theory of evolution very like that of her contemporary Charles Darwin. Tortured by unfulfilled desire, angered by the society in which she lives, Alma refuses to be anything but herself – and the resulting story is utterly original and captivating.
One of the best books I’ve read in a long time.
Read my review of Big Magic or take a look at other books set in the same time period.
PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT - I LOVE TO KNOW WHAT YOU THINK!