Thursday, April 29, 2010

Book - Committed (Elizabeth Gilbert)

Title: Committed - a skeptic makes peace with marriage
Author: Elizabeth Gilbert
Published: NY: Viking, 2010
Reviewed by: Conrade Yap

Eloquent and honest. These two words sum up the book. This book is a follow up of Gilbert's previous mega-seller, Eat, Pray, Love which chronicles the author's travels through three different cultures around the world, seeking healing from her divorce and her depression. This travelogue continues in Gilbert's second book. I must say that this book is written more like a helpless woman struggling to make sense of something she thought she does not believe in anymore: the institution of marriage. As the saying goes, once bitten twice shy. Gilbert tries to recover from her first marriage, by seeking to bury any future possibility of ever marrying again. That was not to be. The book flows eloquently like her second memoir of life; beginning with the end of her first and straddling toward the beginning of the second. This time, the journey to marriage was not via love, but enforced upon them by the Homeland Security of the United States of America.

My Comments
In the book, Gilbert pleads for readers to understand where she is coming from. She confesses that she supports same-sex marriage, even though she does not fully embrace the idea of marriage. She reluctantly admits that she needs to give love a second chance. Throughout the book, it seems like she has never really gotten out of the marriage idea altogether. While she claims that her marriage to the Brazilian-born-Australian-citizen Felipe was a case of administrative convenience in order for both of them to live in the USA, I doubt if that is the main reason. As the book progresses, it seems like she is looking for reasons to support, rather than for reasons to deny marriage. She is giving marriage a chance simply because, she has not truly gotten over the whole idea of marriage.

Gilbert is simply brilliant in her narrative of conversations with the village people in Cambodia, Thailand and Bali. Filled with both amazement of the natives' perspective of marriage, as well as her library of knowledge gleaned understanding of Western culture and history, she tries to meander through both cultures in order to reach a position palatable to herself. She meanders through history. She meanders through the role of men and women. She meanders through marriage counselors and psychologists. She even picks up a book written by a conservative Christian, and confessed that she agrees that it makes a 'compelling point' FOR marriage.

Not Exactly a Marriage Memoir, but a Toleration of Marriage
Unfortunately, I sense that Gilbert's pathway to not exactly making peace but keeping the peace. The former is more active, while the latter is more passive. Although her struggle is an active struggle to make sense of marriage, it remains a less than full struggle. It makes no extra effort toward total commitment. It plays on the level of tolerance, rather than a fully blown commitment. Note that the book 'committed' is not the same as 'full commitment.' It simply means that Gilbert is ok with marriage. Not fanatically embracing it, or enthusiastically campaigning for it. It is just accepting it, minimally, as far as being able to live with Felipe is concerned. As far as marriage is concerned, from a scale of 1 to 10 (most committed), reading the book makes me feel that Gilbert is hovering around 5.5, maybe pushing 6, in terms of her commitment to marriage. The reasons being:
  • Gilbert writes that marriage is essentially a game. (267)
  • She wants the intimacy without the commitment;
  • She opposes the traditional motherhood role, or traditional housewife model, and seeks a 'wifeless' as well as a 'motherless' marriage. Isn't that a marriage of convenience, rather than commitment?
  • She is still struggling, and at various points of the book, she still feels unsure about getting married.
  • At the root of her struggles, lie her battle with what it means to be a woman. This she does from the perspective of a single woman looking into the household of marriage, like a window shopper.
I feel that her negative view of marriage in itself, is already a biased view. Perhaps she is coloured by a failed first marriage that caused her to suspect the benefits of marriage. To be fair, Gilbert bravely confesses her faults as well, chief being her unwillingness to forgive others. (128). Some of the ways she uses 'malay' may not sit well with people who are ethnic 'Malays' in South East Asia.

Having said that, COMMITTED is a good book. There are snippets of wisdom from marriage psychologists and a first person experience into the little known culture in the Far East. In fact, I think she is more an agnostic, albeit a skeptical agnostic. In summary, this book is eloquent, honest, but as far as commitment to marriage is concerned, it is only as committed as Elizabeth Gilbert's toleration scale. Only she knows what her own commitment is, even though at present, she has committed herself to marrying her lover, Felipe.

Book rating: 3.5 stars of 5.

conrade

1 comment:

YAPdates said...

It seems like a movie will be released soon this Summer 2010, starring Julia Roberts, on Elizabeth Gilbert's 1st book, Eat, Pray, Love. See movie trailer here.

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