The Eat, Pray, Love authors romp through 1940s Manhattan is a glorious, multilayered celebration of womanhood
There are some writers who are destined to be judged on one outlandish success. Daphne du Maurier resented Rebecca until her dying day, and JK Rowling didnt rebrand herself as Robert Galbraith for nothing. But when your name is Elizabeth Gilbert and that book is Eat, Pray, Love, the reactions are extreme; utter adoration or visceral loathing, with little in between.
In her third novel, it is spring 1940 and 19-year-old Vivian Morris has dropped out of her Ivy League college and been banished to a New York City in the midst of will-we-wont-we-join-the-war indecision. But as Vivian puts it, exile in New York is no exile at all. The city is all glamour and excitement, with a hysterical edge familiar to readers in a contemporary world on the brink of global crisis.
Sent to live at her bohemian Aunt Pegs down-at-heel mid-town theatre, The Lily, Vivian falls headlong in lust with a colourful world that has little in common with her privileged Wasp upbringing.
Worldly showgirl Celia Ray, streetwise leading man Anthony Roccella, grande dame Edna Parker Watson and her beautiful-but-dim actor husband Arthur, along with Hollywood wheeler-dealer Billy Buell, are like nothing and no one Vivian has ever encountered before. Shes not slow to cast off the moral and emotional shackles of her strait-laced, buttoned-down upbringing, embarking on a series of affairs and acquiring for herself a very different sort of education from the one that her parents would have deemed appropriate.
If this all sounds like something straight out of vaudeville, it is. And intentionally so. This is a work of historical fiction, and Gilberts prose, while not immaculate, zings with the mood of the era. In fact, like Gilberts previous novel, A Signature of All Things, its so true to life in places including real historical figures in the story that it occasionally feels like pastiche.