Don't expect anything close to Eat, Pray, Love when you open the pages of Elizabeth Gilbert's latest novel. A masterful account that spans three generations, multiple continents, and various affairs of both the heart and the head, The Signature of All Things is both fascinating and deeply moving.
Alma Whittaker is a scientist--a botanist, to be exact--who has spent a very sheltered existence living on the lush grounds of her father's well-kept Philadelphia estate. Born into wealth and extravagance--and the daughter of two very stubborn scientists-- Alma is a child and eventually a young woman who must know the answers to things and cannot believe something unless they are proven with fact. It isn't until a strange guest comes to stay with the Whittakers that she is thrust into the unknown of her psyche; for once unable to find the answers of the universe in a book or by studying it with a microscope. From there, Alma is sent on a journey across the world that becomes more unexpected with every page.
The reader is privy to the unfolding of Alma's entire life, as the book begins before she was born by chronicling her father's rise to wealth from his humble beginnings. Where the book takes off from there is a little all over the place: sex, botany, homosexuality, racism, and family ties are all at play throughout the course of her lifetime, which takes place in the 1800s when women were not expected to publish scientific works (check), journey on sea vessels (check), or move to Tahiti (also check). What the book is ultimately about is difficult to say, and that's what makes it an amazing read. Above all, it chronicles a powerful life lived in search of answers, and what science and spirituality really have to say to each other. The book begs the question: What can really be known? and the last 40 pages give way to some of the best possibilities to that question a work of fiction has ever described.