Everything living thing has been given a signature of what it is meant to do on planet earth. That’s according to Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the bazillion copy bestseller Eat, Pray, Love. In her new novel The Signature of All Things, Gilbert has written an intelligent book that will have you spellbound to the last page.
The story’s main character is Alma Whittaker (Alma means “soul” in Spanish. A coincidence, I think not!), a bryologist who is daughter to Walter, a shrewd businessman and his wife Beatrix, a botanist. Through nearly 500 pages we watch her life unfold and at first it seems like an unhappy and lonely one. She misses out on love, she watches her sister get married and becomes a radical abolitionist and if that weren’t enough, we then watch another close friend of hers literally lose her mind.
When happiness does come Alma’s way in meeting the man of her dreams, artist Ambrose Pike, tragedy strikes again. She soon discovers that Ambrose has a past she knows nothing about. She receives a package with his paintings while he is overseas on business. On the back of the paintings is a coded message “tomorrow morning.” She decides to leave her life behind. She donates her inheritance from her parent’s estate to open a school for the unfortunate that her sister and husband will run. She also abandons her life’s work studying moss — a catalyst for the theme of Darwinism into the book. Once that is done she heads off to discover who the man she loved really was.
Alma set sails on a year-long journey. After landing, she quickly discovers that the comforts of home are a thing of the past and it is now survival of the fittest. Alma befriends the locals to try to piece together what “tomorrow morning” means.
At the book’s conclusion, Alma figures out who Ambrose really was and here we are given a familiar dose of “Gilbert-isms” - asking us to question what is life about, how important is love, and what does mean it to sacrifice. For example, does running into a blazing fire to save someone a sign of weakness or, is a sign of strength? A subtitle for the book could be Suffer, Love, Discover.
I found myself totally enthralled by the whole experience because it made me realize that good writers will continue to write and enthrall us while bad ones will bore us and end up forgotten like an extinct plant. With The Signature of All Things, we have an author and book that will stay with us for a very long time. It’s Darwinism at work.