Elizabeth Gilbert started out as a journalist. Then she became a novelist. Then in 2006 she wrote a memoir, “Eat, Pray, Love,” that achieved some critical acclaim but undisputable commercial success — the book has reportedly generated at least $135 million in sales and birthed a $350 million franchise, one that includes a moderately successful Julia Roberts feature film, pillowcases, lip gloss, and other merchandise.
Now with “The Signature of All Things” — her new novel and her first in 13 years — Gilbert turns her gaze outward. This epic tale spans two generations and two centuries and largely centers on a woman named Alma Whittaker, tracking her from birth to dotage. Its premise is sweeping and ambitious; Gilbert writes so wonderfully that it’s impossible not to swoon; you suspect for a time that you may be in the presence of greatness.