When my mother forced a book called Eat, Pray, Love into my hands, I immediately thought that she was going through another religious phase and I reluctantly started reading it. To my surprise, the book was a delight to read. I am not the only one who thought so!
The story of Elizabeth Gilbert’s journey across the world, seeking comfort and meaning in her life after her divorce, sold over 12 million copies and was made into a film featuring Julia Roberts in the lead role.
As a result of the success of the book, Elizabeth Gilbert was named one of the 100 most significant authors in the world and many regard this as her best book ever!
Who is Elizabeth Gilbert?
I think the word “surprising” is the best way to describe Elizabeth Gilbert, both as a person and as an author. From her recent revelation that she was in a relationship with her dear friend, Rayya Elias, who sadly died from cancer in 2018, to her frank disclosures about her two previous marriages, Elizabeth does not hold back on telling it all in an intriguingly and entertaining manner.
Born in 1969 in Connecticut, Elizabeth and her sister were brought up on a Christmas tree farm far from the bright lights of the big cities. This peaceful environment most certainly influenced the development of her curiosity and imagination that have formed the foundation of her amazing literary talent.
After studying political science at New York University, she began travelling in a quest to gather inspiration for her writing. From the start, Elizabeth showed herself to be a skilled novelist and journalist. She was described as “a young writer of incandescent talent” and the many literary awards she has received in her more than twenty-year career, bear witness to her skill as a writer.
Her ability to weave her own life experiences, as well as the big questions we are all plagued by, into humorous, compassionate novels make books by Elizabeth Gilbert refreshing and captivating reads.
Eat, Pray, Love
The big question is, why was this book so successful? It’s the depressing story of a woman who does not want to have children and this leads to the failure of her marriage. She then chooses to be alone as she travels to Italy, India and finally Bali in Indonesia, where she finds her happy ending.
I believe it’s the honesty with which she reveals her deepest fears and grief while maintaining an almost light-hearted and relatable tone. The fact that self-help, finding wellness and mindfulness books had begun to be popular – and continue to be, mean that the book was perfectly designed for the time.
So many women relate to Elizabeth’s experiences and dream of making the type of journey that she did, but they do not have the possibility of doing so. By writing about her experiences in different cultures and with a different religion, women the world over, are allowed to imagine their journey and the choices they would make given the chance.
The three words in the title of this bestseller by Elizabeth Gilbert represent the three sections of her journey and the structure of the chapters is based on prayer beads (the Hindu mala) which breaks it into easily manageable reading chunks.
Of course, some people did not enjoy the book and some have some relevant criticisms. However, the book held its position at No.1 on the New York Times Best Seller list for 199 weeks and that is difficult to argue with.
At the end of Eat, Pray, Love, the bestselling book by Elizabeth Gilbert, she meets Felipe in Bali and they fall in love. However, after her disastrous first marriage and acrimonious divorce, Elizabeth is resolved never to marry again. The couple were steadfast in their commitment to each other but also swore that they would not get married.
In this non-fiction book entitled Committed, she unpicks her own fear of marriage by researching the topic through all manner of means, putting her skills as a journalist to excellent use. She examined the historical basis for the institution of marriage as well as the romantic, social and traditional beliefs that keep it current.
She writes about this complex topic with wit, intellect and empathy and raises questions about compatibility, passion, faithfulness and the responsibilities that a “Christian” marriage places on men and women. Her bitter experience of divorce had made her mindful of the risks and how to avoid them i.e. by not getting married.
Elizabeth Gilbert writes all this with her characteristic charm and leaves the reader still believing that love is worthwhile without the need for a wedding ring. At the end of all her research, Elizabeth concedes that the institution of marriage is not all bad.
Ironically, she and Felipe were compelled to get married by the United States government due to a border dispute involving Felipe, who was of Brazilian origin. Sadly, that marriage also ended in divorce. This all-encompassing account of her research into marriage is part text-book and part philosophical musings and it makes for thought-provoking reading.
The Signature of All Things
This book brings all the fascinations of Elizabeth Gilbert’s mind together in one comprehensive novel: her love of history, adventure, relationships and science. It is set in the eighteenth century and follows the story of a self-made man, Henry Whittaker who makes his fortune in the quinine trade.
Alma, his beloved daughter is an intelligent girl who is fascinated by the natural world and science and she becomes a gifted botanist, an unusual career choice for a woman at that time. Alma makes an unlikely match with an artist, Ambrose Pike, who draws her into his world of magic and spirituality and although an unlikely pairing, this couple are united in their craving to understand the world and its workings.
This novel is about life and death, sexuality and evolution, joy and grief set in a time of great discoveries and changes in the world. Elizabeth Gilbert artfully weaves the essence of the times into lives of her characters. Her thorough research into all things botanical has led to some critics feeling that they have come away with a degree in moss, but most agree that it is brilliantly written with satisfyingly rich characters.
There seems to be a seed of the self-help and mindfulness culture in many of Elizabeth Gilbert’s writing whether it be fiction (Eat, Pray, Love) or non-fiction (Committed) and she does not disappoint with Big Magic. It’s as if, after all her success, she truly wants to share the “how-to” with those of us who long to release our creativity but live in fear of where it may lead us or whether we are even good enough to call ourselves artists.
Big Magic is Elizabeth Gilbert’s showcase of her extraordinarily charming personality combined with her endless bounty of creativity. She encourages artists across all genre to submit to the wave of creativity inside them and to rise above the fear that would hold them back.
Gilbert freely shares her hard-earned experiences of becoming an artist and encourages people to discover their expression of creativity without boundaries or trepidation. Her recipe to creative fulfilment is simple, yet you get the feeling that beneath it all, she is a disciplined artist with strong “habits of mind” that provide her creativity with the structure and perseverance required to be successful.
City of Girls
When considering the best books of Elizabeth Gilbert, I am torn between the best-selling Eat, Pray, Love and The City of Girls. We all have that crazy aunt or grandmother who lived an interesting, bohemian life but most of us have not been party to their deep, dark secrets because someone in the family felt the need to shield us from the unsavory, salacious details of their lives.
Well, in this novel an elderly woman called Vivian looks back on her life with wry wit and abundant openness, sharing a bit too much information some might say. Being of a privileged background but limited interest in intellectual pursuits, Vivian was sent to live with her Aunt Peg in New York after disappointing her parents with her lack of ambition.
Aunt Peg ran a small musical theatre and Vivian, with her shallow interest in fashion and skill as a seamstress, fitted right into this world of costumes and showgirls. It was in 1940, with men going away to war and women had been set free from the yolk of the apron.
This is a book about girls having fun, enjoying sexual exploits and reminds us all to be our authentic self and not take life too seriously.
I have decided that I cannot choose the best book by Elizabeth Gilbert. Each book she writes is original and thought-provoking. She intuitively knows what her readers need and want and she does not stint on the research and crafting of her books to deliver a unique reading experience every time.