by Anna Campbell
Most romance novels and I'd say nearly ALL historical romance novels, including mine, end with a marriage or the promise of marriage or a couple who married earlier in the book vowing eternal devotion. Marriage is de rigeur!
So as you can imagine, I spend quite a bit of my time thinking about marriage!
Which makes COMMITTED: A SKEPTIC MAKES PEACE WITH MARRIAGE by Elizabeth Gilbert required reading.
Like millions of people around the world, I found myself intrigued by the premise of Elizabeth Gilbert's mega-bestseller EAT, PRAY, LOVE (it will surprise nobody when I confess the 'Eat' bit was my favorite - I'm still dreaming of Italian ice-cream and it's six months since I read the book! Now that's powerfully descriptive writing!). In EAT, PRAY, LOVE, Elizabeth Gilbert sets out to discover the meaning of life via the three paths in the title. The last section 'Love' describes how she falls in love with a Brazilian man she meets in Bali. At the end, they have decided to share their lives.
COMMITTED is in many ways a sequel to EAT, PRAY, LOVE although it goes off on its own tangents and has its own journey to relate. Elizabeth and Felipe, her lover, begin their new life together, unaware that their frequent comings and goings in the U.S. attract the attention of the authorities. Eventually, the U.S. refuses to grant Felipe a visa and our protagonists' only solution if they wish to continue to live together is to marry.
Which would be fine except that both Elizabeth and Felipe have gone through painful divorces and have sworn never to marry again. It's a bit like the old Groucho Marx joke about "Marriage is a wonderful institution. But who wants to live in an institution?"
COMMITTED details the soul-searching Elizabeth undergoes as she and Felipe spend months wandering South-East Asia and wait to pass the various administrative requirements for their entry into the U.S. One of the unconscious ironies of the book is that all this takes place before EAT, PRAY, LOVE becomes a worldwide phenomenon. Money is tight and financial stresses and the discomforts of rough travel increase the pressures on their relationship.
Part of Elizabeth's soul-searching involves taking a global view of marriage. She looks into the history of the institution and also talks to the many women from various backgrounds she meets along the way. There are some fascinating insights into the traditional, usually family-arranged matches in South-East Asian society, so different and in some ways, so much more stable, than the giddy, love-based marriages in the West.
She delves into her past and why her own marriage failed, leaving so many emotional scars. She examines the marriages of family and friends in America. Felipe's past comes into play, obviously, but she's mainly looking at the female experience of marriage - what benefits does marriage offer a woman, what are the sacrifices? Can Elizabeth create a balance of these two elements so she can reconcile herself to marrying Felipe, a step they have to take if she is to return to her home in the United States as a permanent resident.
I found this book completely compelling. I could hardly put it down! I think the secret is the same thing that had people breathlessly recommending EAT, PRAY, LOVE to all their friends. Elizabeth Gilbert is almost scarily honest and her sincerity, her fiery intelligence, her intense emotional commitment to the life she lives all make the story unforgettable. She engages so vividly with everyone she meets and so intimately with the reader.
You feel her deep commitment to Felipe and yet her understandable hesitation about taking this step that has proven so disastrously wrong in the past. You cheer her courage as she continually faces up to her fears and eventually overcomes them. At the end, which is a joyous celebration of community and commitment (I love the various meanings of 'committed' that you can read into the title - at the start, it's perfectly clear that Elizabeth thinks anyone who marries is mad enough to be committed!), I had tears in my eyes. Ultimately, this exploration of marriage ends with moving emotion and shining hope for the future.
Well worth reading! Even if you're not a romance novelist!