I may have been late to the Eat Pray Love fanwagon, but when I got my hands on the book, I became a fast fan on Elizabeth Gilbert. I admired the honesty and insight in her writing, and the way she shared her own flaws. EPL soared on the NY Times bestseller list and scored Julia Roberts in the movie adaption, which made Gilbert a household name.
As I explored more of her novels, I found that her EPL style held true throughout her other nonfiction work, and influenced her fictional characters as well. Creating relatable, flawed characters made it easy to fall into the character driven plots of Gilbert’s fiction. Therefore, it’s been easy for me to stick with Gilbert as she continues to release new books, and easy to recommend those books to fellow readers.
The Last American Man
Published: February 2002, Riverhead Books
Trigger Warning: This novel and its review discuss the following: sex, hunting, violence, starvation.
In The Last American Man, Gilbert weaves together the story all about the man, the myth, the legend that is Eustace Conway. Since childhood, Eustace was attracted to the allure of living off the land, providing for himself, and for educating those about the nature around him. He took to maintaining ecosystems in his back yard, or disappearing for hours on end into the woods behind his home. If he wasn’t outdoors, he was quizzing the employees at the Scheile Musuem, about natural science and history, or reading to gain knowledge about such matters as how to build your own tools, Native American folklore, and botany.
Eustace was more at home in nature than his family’s house. Struggling as the eldest son to a very traditional 1960’s couple, Eustace was often the target of his father’s high expectations and demands. When unmet, he would fly into bouts of rage, cursing his son’s idiocy and laziness- and Eustace’s mother thought it kinder to not intervene, knowing that any suggestion to prevent the rage would only lead to more violent outbursts. With the relationship with his parents in tatters, Eustace set off to the wild on his own at age seventeen, after graduation, knowing that he would be able to survive without them. The freedom elated him.
From there, Gilbert continues her rapid-paced notations on Eustace’s life, from his constant travel spreading the word about nature conservation and wildlife survival techniques, to the women that were determined to keep with this wild man. In between Eustace’s story, Gilbert also calls to question on what it means to be a man, and how social convention has changed the definition. Drawing parallels from Thoreau and American western icons, she explores how nature has influenced man’s rights of passage throughout history. It’s a fascinating read, and equally balanced with humorous storytelling and deep insight. Nature fans, Gilbert fans, and those looking for a quick and intriguing read will enjoy The Last American Man.
Eat Pray Love
Published: February 16, 2006, Riverhead Books
Trigger Warning: This novel and review discuss the following: relationships, religion, spirituality, sex.
This memoir follows along the spiritual and personal growth of the author, Elizabeth Gilbert. It’s funny, witty, heart wrenching at times, and so truthful. Gilbert describes how she changed her own life after falling apart during a failed marriage. She travels to Italy, learning the language and tasting the finest foods (Eat), learning how to be an individual again and reintroducing herself to independence. She then spends months in an Ashram in India and reconnects with her spirit (Pray), and learning to forgive herself and those in her past. Finally, she travels to Indonesia to find the balance between discipline and spontaneity, and gives love another chance- without losing herself again (Love).
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, and was constantly finding sources of inspiration from Gilbert’s writing. I flagged so many passages and was so inspired by her personal journey. Clearly, I wasn’t the only one, as this backlist novel became a bestseller long before I was finally old enough to get my hands on it. It may be a little cliche to recommend it now, but the fact that after a decade post-publication, this memoir is still relatable and resounds with it’s readership- that’s a recommendation on it’s own.
The Signature of All Things
Published: October 1, 2013, Riverhead Books
Trigger Warning: This novel and review discuss the following: evolution, sex, death.
I picked up a copy of The Signature of All Things, and then got lazy and found an audiobook through Libby instead to knock it off my TBR faster- and that audiobook was amazing.
“The torch spit sparks and sent chunks of flaming tar spinning into the air behind her as she bolted across the cosmos-the only body in the heavens who was not held to a strict elliptical path. Nobody stopped her. She was a comet.”
Read by Juliette Stevenson, whose voice gave life to the main character, the reader follows the life of Alma Whitaker from pre-childhood through her death, which covers most of the nineteenth century. At a time where women were merely sought after for wifely duties, Alma set her ambitions high, in the world of biological science. As a young girl, she as always reading and fascinated by the world around her. Though not considered an attractive girl, her father doted on her, embracing, encouraging, and supporting her efforts to expand her mind with all kinds of knowledge. Her mother, on the other hand, was harder on her, teaching her to be a strong, desirable marriage prospect. As a young woman, she was given the responsibility of managing the Whitaker’s personal library, which also allowed her extensive opportunity to research all that she desired, but in comparison to her adopted sister, she was lagging behind in gaining the attention of potential suitors.
Well into adulthood, Alma is extremely invested in her career as a female botanist, working on a theory of evolution through her research on mosses. However, she realizes that she is lonely. Her sister and best friend have been married, and the man she thought she loved married one of them. As she was starting to assume the life of a spinster, a man named Ambrose Pike came into her life, and allowed Alma to experience love. Though Alma and Ambrose see the world differently (one as a realist, the other as a surrealist), they both are desperate to understand where they belong in it’s vastness.
Gilbert relays this wonderful legend of Alma Whitaker, female scientist and adventurer, in a fashion that keeps the reader enamored. With the addition of Juliette Stevenson’s voice, I was hanging on every word of Alma’s tale. Even when the pace slows and the action is low, there is something so special about Gilbert’s writing that keeps you tuned in, soaking up the details. It’s a commitment to read, being just under 500 pages, and I would say absolutely worth it- but I’d strongly advocate for the audiobook, as it adds another layer of magic. If you haven’t read this novel, please do. It’s one for women, for the science-minded, for historical fiction fans, and for the fans of Elizabeth Gilbert.
Eat Pray Love Made Me Do It
Published: March 29, 2016, Riverhead Books
Trigger Warning: This novel and review discuss the following: relationships, religion, spirituality, sex.
Here is physical proof that A BOOK CAN CHANGE LIVES. Change lives, people. A whole book, one bestseller, that influenced so many people that they actually could create a 200 page, short story collection with the accounts of those that felt like their lives were changed in some way because of Eat Pray Love.
…Made Me Do It shows that there are so many people out there, working through their own struggles, who all found inspiration in Gilbert’s memoir. While reading, my mind reverted to how I felt reading Eat Pray Love, and took notice on how heartfelt, inspirational, and resonating these stories were. The people in …Made Me Do It took their journeys to a point where they could have an out-of-body reflection upon their situation, wrote about it, and in many cases stated that they are still progressing. Their stories inspired me, just as Gilbert’s did.
The City of Girls
Published: June 4, 2019, Riverhead Books
Trigger Warning: This novel and it’s review contain descriptions of and mention the following topics: LGBTQ, sex, alcoholism, prostitution.
I’d been looking forward to reading this book since the moment I found out it was going to be published. I LOVE Gilbert’s writing, and even more so, her fiction.
Gilbert introduces Vivian, a daughter of some New England blue-bloods who is bored to tears with the planned life her parents wished upon her. As they grew frustrated with her poor grades and determination to break the mold set for her, they send her off to live with her eccentric aunt in NYC. Her Aunt Peg and her estranged Uncle Billy had purchased a rundown theater in Hell’s Kitchen, dubbed The Lily. Now run by Peg and her assistant, Olive, The Lily had seen better days and better plays, but Vivian was immediately entranced by the glamour of the theater scene. She immediately makes friends with the actors and her aunt’s creative group, and is shown the ropes by all the showgirls, and in particular, Celia Ray. Running about New York City, Vivian falls for the gritty city and the ruffians that keep her whirling throughout it.
As the time with her aunt progresses, Vivian is introduced to the great Edna Parker Walter, a theater star from London who has come seeking refuge from WWII. Vivian is fascinated with her, and as they get to know each other, Vivian stuns Edna with her fashion design prowess. In addition, Peg decides that they must put Edna in a production, causing an revival of The Lily. When the show is a success, there is much to celebrate, but when Vivian and Celia go overboard one night, Vivian finally gets a reality check that makes her decide what kind of person she wants to be in life.
As she grows older and learns from her mistakes, what is a winding letter from Vivian concludes with the knowledge that to be loved and accepted doesn’t always mean being being conventional. Gilbert’s writing, as it always does for me, transports my mind to a different place, allowing me to step into another’s shoes and completely lose myself. I got lost in the glamour, the drama, and the brutal honesty of the New York made woman.
Though the length of the book and the letter format isn’t exactly a practical nor realistic point, it does allow Vivian to be honest and thorough. While this isn’t a believable tactic, it wasn’t distracting enough for me to balk at it. Additionally, while the length (470 pages) is intimidating, it’s a very fast paced novel. Had I more time to read the physical copy, I’m positive I would have torn through it in about 2-3 days, tops. No matter the format- audiobook or hardcopy- this book is spectacular.
Categories: Author Spotlights