Top of the New York Times Book Review list this week is Elizabeth Gilbert’s sort-of romantic travelogue, Committed. It’s the kind of book the Times seems to love.
You don’t know Elizabeth Gilbert from Eve? She’s the New York journalist who hit the big time in 2006 with her Eat, Pray, Love — described in one review as “a travelogue of spiritual seeking”. In plainer words is an account of how she got rid of one husband and found a new lover, along the way learning a bit of meditation technique in India and gourmandising in Italy.
In Committed she recounts how, with the help of more travelling and “research”, she overcomes her aversion to marriage because there is no other way for “Felipe”, the Brazilian-Australian lover, to live permanently in the US.
Felipe has also been through a divorce, he has adult children [she has none, deliberately] and he’s as determined as Gilbert not to ruin the good thing they have by marrying.
Researching marriage helps:
Gilbert is equally likely to quote Plato or her friend Ann, and equally keen to discuss how attitudes toward marriage changed from the Old to the New Testament, how important — according to evolutionary biologists — the vasopressin receptor gene is in determining male fidelity, and how her own parents have managed to stay together for more than 40 years.
(Vasopressin — remember that, girls.) In the end, it’s happily ever after, supposedly:
Gilbert generously permits us to be virtual guests at her wedding, and for all her before-the-fact reluctance (she compares planning a wedding to waiting for a colonoscopy), the scene is as sweet and satisfying as the end of any movie where Hugh Grant plays the groom.
Well, isn’t that edifying? Just like two more titles on this week’s list: Siamese (“In this barren Norwegian novel, an ex-director of an old-age home fulminates and decays, and brutalizes his wife.”) and Unfinished Desires (“This powerful novel chronicles a hauntingly ‘toxic’ year at a Catholic girls’ school.”)
An observant reader of the Times tells me that the failed marriages and toxic Catholic girlhoods mix “seems to be the pattern most weeks, actually”. How odd. Has the Times got it in for marriage and innocence?