BY ELIZABETH GILBERT
ELIZABETH GILBERT shot to fame with her memoir Eat, Pray, Love – it was such a hit that a film version starring Julia Roberts is set for release later this year. At the end of that tale of recovery following a grisly, heart-rending divorce and a long period of travelling to rediscover herself, Gilbert meets a man and falls in love again.
Committed picks up where she and Felipe left off – they are madly in love and looking for a return to a life of more stability in the US. They want to be together for ever, but after both of their awful experiences of wedded life they do not want to marry – ever. But their best-laid plans change when US Customs and Immigrations in Dallas decide that Felipe isn’t allowed back into the country. The only solution, a kindly officer tells them in an interrogation room, is to get married.
Terror assails the couple, even as they accept reality. As they head back into the traveller’s limbo while waiting for the necessary paperwork for a US wedding, Gilbert decides that since she’s been corralled back into the institution of holy matrimony, she had better make her peace with it. She sets out to do this by delving into history, literature and by talking to as many married people as she can lay her hands on – from Western chums to grandmothers of northern Vietnam’s Hmong tribe.
From the moment you dip in, the book is beguiling – the topic may sound hackneyed but Gilbert’s self-deprecating, everywoman voice didn’t sell seven million copies of Eat, Pray, Love for nothing. She manages to combine the cynical independence of thought that defines modern women with an emotional examination of the basic, universal appeal of romantic love. The vast majority of people – whether single, married or divorced – will feel as though this book is speaking straight to them.
THE LEFT HAND OF GOD
BY PAUL HOFFMAN
Michael Joseph, £12.99
“LISTEN. The Sanctuary of the Redeemers on Shotover Scarp is named after a damned lie for there is no redemption that goes on there and less sanctuary,” goes this novel’s first line. It’s a pretty cold welcome to the vast, desolate and somewhat portentous setting of The Left Hand of God.
In Hoffman’s first novel, The Wisdom of Crocodiles, he imagined the total collapse of the financial system. In his much-touted debut fantasy book, he envisions something much scarier: a place with no joy or hope whatsoever.
The Sanctuary of the Redeemers is a hellish, blasted landscape and most of its occupants were taken there as boys and for years have endured the brutal regime of the Lord Redeemers, the overlords of this peculiar world, whose cruelty and violence are designed to serve the One True Faith.
Among the Lords’ charges is a boy called Thomas Cale, who is strange and secretive, clever, charming and extremely good at killing people. One day, he opens a door he shouldn’t have and sees something so awful he has to leave or he will die.
Off he goes to a world that is the opposite of the Sanctuary – it’s called Memphis and it’s full of corruption, promiscuity and pimps. Yet Cale has been selected by the Lord Redeemer for a deadly higher purpose back at home – he’s a vital instrument for bringing about apocalypse, and they want him back at any price.
This is a solid fantasy tale, imagined in intricate, absorbing detail. There is plenty of captivating action – duels, kidnap, chases and damsels in distress. But although it’s more adult than Harry Potter, the book lacks the sophistication of Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, and those after something more subtly enthralling will probably lose patience with it.
BY MICHAEL KINSLEY
Simon & Schuster, £8.99
This is the transcription of an online discussion between some of the world’s foremost businesspeople and academics, inspired by Bill Gates’s speech on creative capitalism at Davos in 2008.
Even as some of the world’s biggest companies were floundering, Gates argued that the world’s problems are too big for private philanthropy and well-meaning governments. The solutions, he said, must come from the free-market itself – enter the term “creative capitalism”. The problem with “uncreative” capitalism is that it only caters to demand – not need. In other words, to those who can afford its goods, not to those who need what it can sell, such as malaria medication for sufferers in poor parts of the world.
The book consists of responses to Gates’ ideas, some in the form of essays, others in conversation with the book’s editor, Michael Kinsley, one of the US’s top commentators and the founder of Slate, a Washington DC-based magazine.
The result is not the collection of out-of-date armchair opinions that it could have been, but a stimulating discussion. While it doesn’t provide answers, it does the next best thing: gets the brain working on how the problems of the world’s poor countries can be tackled by the creativity of the rich world’s corporations.
Contributors to the discussion tussle over how this can be achieved. Should it be through the pursuit of sheer ruthless money-making, or by a fraction of profit going towards work that will help the poor but not make money? Some point out that Gates himself has helped more people through spreading technology as a businessman than he has as a philanthropist.
With capitalism’s stock at an all-time low, this book is hugely relevant and critical contribution to one of the great issues of our time. And, refreshingly, it revolves around human and social possibility, not doom.