Author: Elizabeth Gilbert
Publication Information: October 2013, Viking Adult
How I Got This Book: I purchased it myself. In multiple formats. Because I couldn't help myself.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Synopsis from Goodreads: 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.
My Thoughts: A lot has been written about this book already. And, I must say, the good stuff is all true. (I don't know what the bad stuff is, so I don't know whether or not I'd agree...)
One of my friends and I were so excited about reading this book, even before it came out, that we really kind of psyched ourselves out. We were so afraid of being disappointed by our expectations that it took me almost a year to actually read the novel. I loved Gilbert in Eat, Pray, Love and I desperately wanted to love this novel, even knowing that the two would be so different that they might not even be comparable. This friend and I talked about the novel so much that the abbreviation "SOAT" is in both of our autocorrects.
Somehow I was finally able to set aside my expectations, hopes, and fears and completely devour the novel. It was fabulous.
I loved Alma as a character. I loved how the focus of the novel was on how she was able to find completion and wonder in her work at a time when a woman was a failure if she weren't married with umpteen children by the time she was in her mid-twenties. At the time that I read the novel, I was single, childless, in my mid-twenties, unemployed, with no idea as to what I wanted to do for the future. I'm still single, childless, in my mid-twenties, and am not 100% sure of what I want to do for the future--I did, however, find a job--but I felt and feel better about all of it. Not that I was feeling that bad about it to begin with, but I definitely felt unsettled by all of the question marks in my life. I'll find my passion eventually and the other puzzle pieces of my life will come together eventually as well. And all of that is OK.
Back to the book...I loved the grand, sweeping style in which the novel was written. I felt like I was reading a masterful classic that completely transported me to a different place and time. I think Gilbert's talents of describing the scene in Eat, Pray, Love definitely shine through in her descriptions of setting here. She minutely, but not tediously, describes people, places, and objects. I'm sure that contradicts with "grand" and "sweeping," but it really doesn't when you read the book.
Bottom line--The novel was absolutely enchanting and that is why you need to read it.