The Signature of All Things [Book Review]

Book Reviews, Just for Fun

Have you been following along with Penguin’s Daily December Delights? If you have, you’ll know that today’s featured book is The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert.


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 Whittakera poor-born Englishman who makes a great fortune in the South American quinine trade, eventually becoming the richest man in Philadelphia. Born in 1800, Henrys brilliant daughter, Alma (who inherits both her fathers money and his mind), ultimately becomes a botanist of considerable gifts herself. As Almas 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 directioninto the realm of the spiritual, the divine, and the magical. Alma is a clear-minded scientist; Ambrose a utopian artistbut what unites this unlikely couple is a desperate need to understand the workings of this world and the mechanisms behind all life.

I was introduced to Elizabeth Gilbert’s writing with Eat, Pray, Love, a book that took me around the world, taught me something each step of the way, and helped me to re-evaluate my own life. With The Signature of All Things, I was taken around the world but in a different time period, following a different journey. This novel follows the journey of a very wealthy, stubborn, and hardworking man, and trickles into his daughter’s journey. As a lover of historical fiction I found Elizabeth’s depiction of this time period truly fascinating. You can tell that an intense amount of research went into forming this novel and I thoroughly enjoyed learning about various plants and how they were used/what they were used for. The Signature of All Things is such a detailed account that it didn’t leave much left for the imagination, which is something that would normally trouble me, but I found it worked well for this novel. Every character is alive, you can see them, hear them, and fall in love with them. Alma is a wonderful character and one that I won’t soon forget. I love how her curiosity never ceases and how she is constantly trying to answer why or how. 

“She wanted to understand the world, and she made a habit out of chasing down information to its last hiding place, as though the fate of nations were at stake in every instance…and when given the answer–demanded to know why this was certain.”  (51)

I must admit that the length of this novel and the detailed descriptions had my attention waver a few times. It’s the sort of story that’s easy to get sucked into but you have to be in the mood for it. You have to be sitting up and paying attention to what’s going on in order to get the most out of it. It’s not Eat, Pray, Love (if that’s what you’re looking for) but it is just as relatable if you give it a chance. I would recommend this novel to any historical fiction lover on your list – there’s only three days until Christmas but that’s plenty of time for a last-minute gift!

Don’t forget to head over to Penguin’s Daily Delights to enter to win your very own copy of The Signature of All Things!

Talk soon,

Vanessa Xo