Elizabeth Gilbert on The Signature of All Things and the Joy of Fiction

For Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the new novel, The Signature of All Things, a return to fiction has been nothing less than liberating. “I don’t expect people to know this about me, but it is my heritage,” Gilbert said in our Bibliostar.TV interview. True indeed, The Signature of All Things is Gilbert’s third work of fiction—after the story collection Pilgrims and the novel, Stern Men, though she’s most famous to now for her memoir 2006’s Eat, Pray, Love, about her physical and spiritual travels in Italy, India and Bali.

But after the huge success of Eat, Pray, Love–and the five years of attention about the author’s personal story–Gilbert felt the pull of fiction again. “I had forgotten the joy of fiction. I had forgotten the power of fiction,” she said. “I felt that I had lost track of some important fundamental part of myself, my own origin story in a way. So it was time.”

And with the sweeping scope of The Signature of All Things, spanning across much of the 19th century, Gilbert has jumped back in a big way that is sure to please to readers, and is already impressing critics. Gilbert’s heroine is Alma Whittaker, the daughter of a well-known botanical explorer. The story follows Alma as she becomes a respected botanist in her own rite, as her research takes her deeper into the mysteries of evolution. Eventually, Alma falls in love with a artist who helps her understand the spiritual side of nature in addition to the scientific. With settings in London, Peru, Philadelphia, Tahiti and Amsterdam, the book required extensive research, which Gilbert was able to fully dedicate herself to, thanks to the success of the Eat, Pray, Love book and movie.

“The book for me is also a celebration of this great moment of abundance and contentment in my life. What are you going to make out of that? And this is the book that I wanted to make out of that.”

The broad scope of the book was part of the allure for Gilbert. “Just to reach big, that’s what I wanted to do with this book too, just write a big 19th century novel, a big, galloping, sweeping epic.” Early reviews have been very good both for Gilbert’s heroine and for the author’s own ambitious goals as a writer. On that point, Marie Arana writes in her review for the Washington Post,”If life is reasonable — if the natural, Darwinian order is for strength to prevail and grit to triumph — then Alma will find love after all. And Gilbert will be lauded for following a runaway bestseller with a radiant novel.”

The Signature of All Things is available now from Viking.

Related Videos

Official Book Trailer for The Signature of All Things

Recorded at Book Expo America, New York, 2013.



  1. Deborah Hopkins says:

    This is the first time I have ever felt compelled to provide a responsive statement to a book or in this case the audio version of this book. I am an avid reader and was given the Signature of all Things as a X-Mass gift. All the books that I read are of the same time period as this book and mostly England/America as the location. Now that I am finished with the audio version I am looking for more audio books similar to that of the Signature of All Things. I was most impressed with Elizabeth Gilbert’s writings and with Juliet Stevenson’s narrative and thoroughly enjoyed listening. My only regret was coming to the end. Not sure where this comment will end up but I would like to ask if there are any other audio books that Ms. Gilbert can refer me to. As for Eat, Pray, Love I, of course, watched the movie which was good but I prefer historical fiction. Thank you and kiddos to Ms. Gilbert for a wonderful book and Ms. Stevenson for the narrati

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