The Signature of All Things

Elizabeth Gilbert


All I knew of Elizabeth Gilbert’s work was Eat, Pray, Love (hated it), Commitment (liked it), and her TED talk (loved it.) When it turned up on one of my subscription services for $1.99, I decided to give it a chance. I almost tossed the book for violating one the basic principles of fiction writing—show, don’t tell. This book is 95% telling. With very little dialogue, it is almost all telling about what happened to a remarkable woman and what she did. Instead of pitching the book, I decided to treat it as if someone were telling the story across the fire on a cold night. I’m glad I had the patience to stick with it, because it turned out to be a fascinating story. True, there were moments where I had to work hard to suspend my disbelief, but in the end it was worth it.

Alma Whitaker is a remarkable woman, and her story takes us around the world from England (her father’s story), to Philadelphia, the island of Tahiti, and finally Holland. It follows her entire life and her passion for botany, especially mosses. Along the way, she meets and marries a man who rebuffs her, eventually sailing to Tahiti. She follows him to learn about his mysterious life, meeting remarkable people along the way. Eventually she journeys to Holland to connect with her mother’s family.

I’m glad I recovered from my initial dislike to stick with the book. It was worth it.


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