Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert (audiobook)


The Signature of All Things
by Elizabeth Gilbert
narrated by Juliet Stevenson
Penguin Audio, 2013
21 hours and 44 minutes
source: review copy from publisher

Publisher's summary:
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 18th and 19th 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.

Exquisitely researched and told at a galloping pace, The Signature of All Things soars across the globe - from London to Peru to Philadelphia to Tahiti to Amsterdam, and beyond. Along the way, the story is peopled with unforgettable characters: missionaries, abolitionists, adventurers, astronomers, sea captains, geniuses, and the quite mad. But most memorable of all, it is the story of Alma Whittaker, who - born in the Age of Enlightenment, but living well into the Industrial Revolution - bears witness to that extraordinary moment in human history when all the old assumptions about science, religion, commerce, and class were exploding into dangerous new ideas. Written in the bold, questing spirit of that singular time, Gilbert's wise, deep, and spellbinding tale is certain to capture the hearts and minds of listeners.

My thoughts: 
If you're like me and found Eat, Pray, Love to be a whiny tale of self-indulgence, do yourself a favor and forget it. Please don't hold that memoir against Elizabeth Gilbert and her return to fiction because, if you do, you'll miss a very good book.

 I was not planning to read The Signature of All Things, and to be honest, the description offered little incentive. It was only after noticing my audio review copy was narrated by Juliet Stevenson, that I decided to give it a try.

Other reviewers have referred to The Signature of All Things as Dickensian in scope and I certainly agree. The novel spans most of the 18th and 19th centuries, much of the world, and offers up a host of characters, themes, and story lines. This sprawling novel tells the story of Alma's Whitaker's life and examines the development of her character from birth through old age. She is a remarkably intelligent, independent woman and it was a pleasure to observe her over her entire lifespan. The book is infused with plenty of science, especially botany and evolution. I did not expect to like this book, but ended up being enthralled.

I'm attributing much of my enjoyment to the audio production - Juliet Stevenson has been a favorite narrator for years. Often when I love listening to a book, it's hard to know whether I would have found it as engaging in print... but for the record, Jackie did.

My ratings
 for the story:

for the performance:



42 comments:

  1. I'm so happy I read your review of this one. Like you I found Eat, Pray, Love incredibly whiny and had written this one off without giving it a second thought. Now I'm looking for an audio copy!

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    1. Melissa - I think audio is the way to go with this book!

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  2. My local bookseller knows I'm not a historical fiction reader but she says this is the book to win me over on the genre. I'm not convinced so I haven't picked it up yet. I will give it a try one of these days.

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    1. Kathy - I think you might enjoy this on audio. It's long, but so easy to get pulled in!

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  3. I enjoyed reading your review JoAnn. I am not familiar with this author. It sounds like a gripping tale.

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    1. Pat - It may be best to approach this one without preconceived notions about the author...

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  4. I'm one who first enjoyed Eat, Pray, Love - but grew weary far before the end. Glad to read this as I've passed by her new book. Might try it now.

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    1. Midlife Roadtripper - Now that you mention it, I remember enjoying the Eat (Italy) section of Eat, Pray, Love more than the others...

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  5. Funny that you mentioned the whiny aspect of her other book. I did not read that one, because of everyone mentioning the same thing but I've seen clips of the movie and the movie looked like it might work better for me. But yeah, I didn't pick this one up based on the reviews of her book. Glad to know there is nothing to worry about with this one.

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    1. Ti - You'll probably like the movie better. I watched it for the first time last month and really liked it... one of the only times I've every liked the movie more than the book!

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  6. Maybe I'll give this one a try on audio. It's been at least a year since I've listened to an audio book. Often an author's nonfiction is better than their fiction but it sounds like the opposite is the case for Gilbert.

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    1. Vasilly - I think that's definitely the case for Gilbert... highly recommend the audio here.

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  7. Heh, JoAnn, I just posted about this book today too, but I had a much different take on it!

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    1. Amy - Loved your review! Think you found what I suspected to be true... glad I listened to this one ;-)

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  8. I have this one on my tbr list. I enjoyed your review.

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    1. Linda - Hope you like the book as much as I did!

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  9. I just finished this a couple of days ago. I could have done without all the closet sessions, but I thought the writing was excellent!

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    1. Jill - Oh, the closet... was trying to decide whether or not to mention that in this review;-)

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  10. I got a copy of this for Christmas and still haven't read it. I was excited to hear that it made the Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction longlist - I always try to read a few titles from the list and am glad to already own one of them. I follow Gilbert on Twitter and she is so charming and positive - nothing like Eat, Pray, Love would lead you to think!

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    1. Anbolyn - I like reading titles from the longlist, too, but have only read two of this year's list. Certainly hope to read another three or four soon. Hope you enjoy this one!

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  11. This novel has not appealed to me one bit, but based on your glowing praise for the audio production, I'm going to add it to my list. You have never let me down with your audio recommendations! :)

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    1. Les - There was absolutely nothing about this novel that appealed to me and I would never have sought it out...probably wouldn't have even listened to an audio review copy if it had a different narrator. I still cant believe how much I enjoyed this book. Will be curious to see if you have the same reaction.

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  12. Yay! I'm so pleased you decided to give it a try. Moss can be interesting!!!

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    1. Jackie - Who would have guessed? ;-)

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  13. I got this one from the library and want to listen to it. I've never read Eat, Pray, Love but I did love the movie. Glad you liked this one so much.

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    1. Darlene - Eat,Pray, Love is one of the very few times I've enjoyed the movie more than the book.

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  14. I am exactly like you in finding Eat Pray Love a festival of whiny indulgence, which is exactly why I wouldn't read this book. Except that you and other trusted reading friends have liked it. So, maybe I'll have to change my mind. :)

    By the way, you won The Fever Tree give away at my blog. Please send me your mailing address, and I'll forward it to the publisher. xo (bellezza.mjs@gmail.com)

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    1. Bellezza - I doubt I would have even read an unsolicited review copy, but couldn't pass up a Juliet Stevenson narration. Still can't decide whether I would recommend it in print, but the audio was wonderful.

      Looking forward to reading The Fever Tree. Thank you!

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  15. I loved her narration as well, and now I need to find out what else she's narrated. Glad u enjoyed this as well.

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    1. Diane - She did an excellent job with Trespass by Rose Tremain, too!

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  16. This is good to know! I'm not familiar with this narrator, but I wasn't planning on reading or listening to this book at all, until 1) I saw it longlisted on a prize list recently, and 2) I see you saying to forget about Eat, Pray, Love. I will definitely go with the audio on this one (even though it's so long!)

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    1. Laurei C - I think the long list nomination will attract more readers. I think audio is the way to go!

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  17. I wasn't as put off by Eat, Pray, Love as you were but still I wasn't sure I'd enjoy this one. Sounds like I will, especially the audio version!

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    1. Lisa - Eat, Pray, Love was one of the very few times I actually liked the movie better than the book. Hope you can get an audio copy of this one!

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  18. I found Eat Pray Love not at all interesting but this review makes me want to take another look at this author. Thanks for the review.

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    1. Mystica - I almost missed this one because of my reaction to Eat, Pray, Love... hope you like it.

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  19. I love sprawling novels like this. I do remember Jill mentioning the closet scenes though! I might not care for those so much ;)

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    1. Stacybuckeye - Those closet scenes were a bit much, but not enough to dismiss the novel.

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  20. I enjoyed this novel, it wasn't great as I had some qualms with it, but overall it was a nice book. I haven't read Eat, Pray, Love yet...

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    1. Melinda - I think listening to this one increased my overall enjoyment. As far as Eat, Pray, Love goes, I think the movie was actually better than the book.

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  21. I had used my audible credit on this way back and am now finally listening. You are right - EXCELLENT on audio! I want to drop everything and just listen but I have STUFF to do. I was just at the part when Alma was reading through the German books to discover how Ambrose would get caught up in such silly stuff and then Ambrose walked into the library and gives her such compliments after laughing at her poking holes in the logic. I was laughing along with him. I wasn't sure I would like Alma but she has softened. I really like Ambrose. Hope this ends well... Anyway, thanks for the recommendation.

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    1. Care - Audio is definitely the way to go with this book! Alma is a great character and she gradually grew on me over the course of her life/the book. Toward the end, it felt like I really understood her. SO glad you're enjoying it :)

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