Five words from the blurb: botanical, explorer, woman, independent, evolution
The Signature of All Things was the best novel I read in 2013. It is a rich, atmospheric story about one woman and her passion for moss. I know that sounds like the dullest premise imaginable, but Elizabeth Gilbert has woven horticultural details with amazing characters and a heartwarming series of events to create a fantastic novel that gets better every time you think about it.
The book begins in 1800 with the birth of Alma Whittaker. Her father’s passion for botany infects her and she gains an interest in moss. Her studies soon get her thinking about evolution and this leads her on a journey that encompasses several continents and enables her to meet a range of fascinating people.
I’m not a keen gardener, but I found the details about plant collecting and classification fascinating. It was eye-opening to learn about the infancy of this industry and the difficulties faced by those trying to cultivate plants like vanilla for the first time.
The book was made extra special by Alma Whittaker – one of the best female protagonists I’ve ever come across. It was a rare pleasure to be able to follow a character from birth into old age with a complete understanding of their fears, desires and motivations. I loved the way that she changed and developed as she aged:
Racist/homophobic attitudes were occasionally difficult to stomach, but I think they helped to show how far we’ve come since then.
The plot was slow, but it never dragged and I loved being immersed in the past. Everything appeared to be incredibly well researched (although I’m no expert) and I loved the way that fact and fiction were blended together. It was simply good, old-fashioned story telling with no tricks or gimmicks.
The Signature of All Things is one of those books that sounds far less interesting than it actually is. Trust me. Give it a try!