Book Review – The Signature of All Things

By Elizabeth Gilbert
Started: 18th July 2014
Finished: 22nd July 2014

I won this novel through GoodReads First Reads. I must admit, I’ve never read Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love as it’s never really appealed to me. However there was something about this book that caught my attention. Upon winning this book I was both pleased and wary – I didn’t quite know how the book could last as many pages as it does. Although I didn’t need to worry as it was the perfect length and my interest was kept throughout.

The Signature of All Things is a novel focusing on the life of Alma Whittaker. It starts with her birth, but as she’s of an age where she isn’t doing anything remarkable, the reader is told of her father, Henry Whittaker, instead. Explaining how he’s one of the most renowned botanists and also one of the richest men in the New World. Once Alma is starting to grow and show signs of her remarkable mind and unquenchable curiosity we journey with her in her life. From acquiring a sister, to her discovering sexuality, to becoming a published botanist and the list just goes on.

Alma Whittaker is an incredible heroine with a fantastic story. With everything she experiences she is a strong woman, who sacrifices a lot for her family (especially for her beloved father). The reader is exposed to a life that is alien to them and fascinating to watch unfold in front of them. Alma’s childhood is filled with exploring of her large home of White Acre, however looking at things in more detail than what most children do. It’s these early discoveries that she makes which propels her into the world of botany like her father (and mother who helps to document things). On the surface Alma has everything she could ask for but underneath it she has hidden desires that she can’t confide in anyone. I loved Alma and her relationships (or lack of) with other characters, I was rooting for her and her happiness throughout the novel.

Henry Whittaker was quite a character too, both in his youth and in his old age. He had an interesting life which was a joy to read, and a great way to open the novel. Beatrix Whittaker isn’t the conventional maternal figure, however you can’t say she didn’t teach her children valuable lessons. Henneke de Groot, the head housekeeper, is another valuable character who came out with some quips that I greatly enjoyed. I was always unsure of Alma’s sister Prudence, however revelations towards the end of the novel caused me to warm up to her. Retta Snow was an intriguing character with a storyline that I didn’t expect later on in the novel, which is something you should look forward to. However my favourite minor character was Ambrose Pike, he was just so different from the characters we’d been introduced to previously. He also isn’t as predicable as he may seem, which contributed to a brilliant twist in the novel for me.

You may read this book and feel that some things are predictable, however that’s not what it was like for me. There was always something happening in the novel that held my attention and simply wouldn’t let go. Whether that was from the travel, the addition of new characters or the surprises that are revealed near the end of the novel. The novel is split into five parts with varying chapter length – depending on the events of the chapter. It was a great way to present the story and certainly helped keep track of events. Gilbert has a beautiful writing style, which was both frank when it needed to be and immensely detailed. Her words painted a stunning picture and had me unable to put the book down.

This novel was an absolute delight and really surprised me. I wasn’t expecting to love the book as much as I did. I’m so pleased I was chosen in the GoodReads First Read giveaway as if I hadn’t, I may never have read it and missed such a wonderful book.

Rating: 5/5

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