July 30, 2016 4 Comments
I’ve read several books by Elizabeth Gilbert but had not read The Signature of All Things yet, so it was about time! I had no idea what it would be about, and I was surprised to find that this was historical fiction. The other novels I’d read by Gilbert were all set in current times.
This is a novel about the life of a female botanist, Alma Whittaker, born at the end of the eighteenth century and follows her from birth to the grave (and even before birth, as we learn how her father acquired such wealth as he did). Alma is more interested in her father’s work, botany, than in becoming a socially acceptable girl. This means she prefers her research over settling down with a husband. During the story, we follow her struggles with becoming accepted as a female botanist, with love, and her adventures abroad, taking her into a very different, spiritual, world.
I very much enjoyed reading Alma’s story – it felt like this was a woman who had really existed. She’s completely fictional, though (I checked). This is both a story about a woman quietly doing research at her large estate, as a story about adventure, tropical islands and sea captains. Five stars from me. I loved this!
The publisher says: “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.”