Saturday, April 24, 2010

Committed to Elizabeth Gilbert

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!


  1. For many, I don't think commitment in the true sense of the word really comes into play when they get married. Divorce has become so common that I think marriage is considered before looking at all the factors involved. "If it doesn't work, we'll get divorced." seems to be a much too common attitude. They don't realize how much work and effort, and yes commitment, a good marriage takes.
    If this book makes people slow down and think seriously about marriage and what a good one involves, then it is a good book. I seriously hope everyone takes the chance to read it.

  2. Have you read it, Pat? I found it really compelling! I think because it was clear quite how seriously EG takes the whole idea of marriage. My parents had a very happy marriage so I'm lucky enough to have seen how a partnership works in practice (working through conflict, for a start). It's tough but I sincerely think it's worth it.

  3. Anna,

    I saw Elizabeth Gilbert in an interview on The Bonnie Hunt Show (YouTube it). She was phenomenal. I was so impressed with what she had to say (which is so aligned with my way of thinking).

    After watching the interview, I went out and bought her first book, Eat, Pray, Love. Quite compelling!

  4. Hi, Elodie! She's a terrifically compelling speaker, isn't she? A friend of mine put me onto a lecture she gave about summoning the muse. That quality of her writing, the transparent honesty, is true about her public speaking as well.

  5. So very true. I suppose that candor really derives from having to go through what she did with such strength of character.

  6. Hi Anna! My daughter Buffie has read Eat, Pray, Love and has told me I would enjoy it.

  7. As always, Anna, another fantastic blog! I have Eat, Pray, Love on my shelves, and I need to read it soon. Of course, I have a huge stack of books in line to review, as well as dozens and dozens of others waiting to be read. So many books, so little time. *sigh*

    I think people should think long and hard about the commitment marriage takes before they take that step. Marriage has become "disposable", and it's a shame that people go into it with the idea that they can always get divorced if it doesn't work out. Marriage takes work, and anyone who says otherwise is clueless. My hubby and I will celebrate our 22nd anniversary in July, and I wouldn't change a thing. There are ups and downs, to be sure, but that's what life is all about. And the "downs" (they are few, thank heavens) make us appreciate the "ups" that much more. I am blessed.

    My parents celebrated 50 years on March 18th with a lovely party. Sadly, my mom passed away on April 12, but I'm so grateful the party came to pass. What a wonderful memories we all have of that day! It's a lesson that we must all savor each and every moment we have. Carpe diem!

  8. Hi Anna.
    Okay now I need to go out and get Eat, Pray , Love to read so I can read this next book. It sounds fascinating.
    I am with Gannon that marriage has become disposable. Too many of my peers have opted to get out instead of working through their problems. It is acceptable to have a "starter" marriage.
    My parents are preparing to celebrate their 46th anniversary and my in-laws are preparing for their 47th. I know from witnessing my parents marriage and hearing about my in-laws that it is a commitment to each other, in addition to love, that makes it work. My husband and I have been with each other as a committed couple for almost 21 years and married for 15. We have weathered both the ups and the downs --and somehow we have come through them all the more committed to each other and in love than before. It hasn't always been easy but that is what makes you appreciate the good times and what you have even more.
    Anyway.....Great review!

  9. Anna, I read EAT, PRAY, LOVE when it wa the craze (mostly due to Oprah Winfrey). I really enjoyed the book (and have to agree with you -- my favorite part was the EAT part, in Italy).

    I totally agree with everyone else -- marraige is disposable in this day and age. And that is such a shame. Any good, worthwhile thing in your life has come from hard work and dedication, and marriage is the same way. It takes a lot to keep a marriage going. This summer the dh and I will celebrate 20 years of marriage. Some days it is really easy, and some days it is not. But we love each and CHOSE to stay with each other. I wish some of the young ones out there would realize that. I pray my children realize that when their time comes.

  10. Elodie, it's tremendously attractive, that honesty, isn't it? And she has a very intimate writing voice - like she's speaking directly to you. It's very powerful!

  11. Mary Ann, I really enjoyed both books, I actually think this one marginally more. Give it a go!

  12. Gannon, congratulations on your 22 years. I've got to say I've come to the conclusion that most things in life that are worthwhile require work! As you know, I'm so sorry to hear about your mum - I'm so glad she got to enjoy her 50th anniversary. That's wonderful!

  13. Hey, thanks, Cyndi! So glad you enjoyed the review. I think you'll enjoy the book - one thing Elizabeth Gilbert isn't is flippant about what a commitment marriage is. I respect that. Congratulations on your wonderful years together with your husband - looks like you've got good marriage genes ;-)

  14. Wow, Buffie, it's so wonderful reading about all these wonderful enduring relationships. Congratulations to you too! My grandparents were married for over 70 years which is mindboggling! By the way, laughed at you being an 'eat' girl. I felt completely shallow when I said that but it's true - there was something joyous and life-giving and sensual about those weeks in Italy. You could feel the sun, couldn't you?

  15. Oh yes, you could feel the sun AND smell the wonderful food.

    Goodness, 70 years!! That is fabulous. The dh and I were babies when we got married, so I would love to celebrate 70 years with him.

  16. It IS amazing, isn't it, Buffie? Of course, they were lucky that they got such long lives together. My grandmother passed away last year at the age of 101!

  17. Anna,

    Great blog, again, you introduce me to someone I have not heard of before, the premise sounds wonderful.

    For someone who was married at 21, and is STILL happily married after 28 years, this sounds like a fascinating read on so many levels.
    Cheers mate, you have done it again!

  18. Hey, thanks, Drew! This was a bit outside my usual reading and I must say I devoured it like EG devoured ice-cream in EPL! That's fantastic about your many happy years with your husband! You go, my friend! Actually one of the things that fascinate me about marriages I know of is that there are NO real rules. No too young, too old, too rich, too poor, too settled, too wild. Everybody has to create the marriage. Although I must say, the relationships I admire almost always involve mutual respect. In fact, that to me, is the ONE rule!

  19. Hi Anna! Thanks for another wonderful review. Sorry I didn't make it here yesterday - out of town and spotty internet access.

    I'm looking forward to reading this. I really enjoyed Gilbert's first book.

  20. PJ, blame my adolescent sense of humor but spotty email access made me think of pimples ;-) Thanks so much for swinging by. Glad you enjoyed the review!

  21. OK, Anna - I'm in, all in. What a GREAT!! review; and I've yet to read Eat, Pray, Love.

    I'm a die-hard romance reader and yet the whole marriage thing is still a puzzlement to me. This is despite the fact that my parents have been happily married for 60 years, and my sisters and brothers have been married to their spouses at least 30 years. Go figure. So... you've got me so very interested in reading this.

  22. Marisa, I think marriages are mysterious beasts and that's why they're endlessly fascinating. Perhaps because every marriage is different. I think you'd enjoy this book! Hey, not long now till I see you!

  23. I love to read Debbie's books. Have read a lot and like the funny and serious books that she writes. This one sounds great as well.