Esme Oliver's Novel 'Smoke, Drink, F*#k' Turns 'Eat, Pray, Love' On Its Head

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"Smoke Drink F*#k," by Esme Oliver. (Jackson Mitchell/Here & Now)
"Smoke Drink F*#k," by Esme Oliver. (Jackson Mitchell/Here & Now)

Esme Oliver's new novel is a darker, more biting version of the now-familiar story of "Eat, Pray, Love." The novel, "Smoke, Drink, F*#k" is about a woman on the verge of turning 40, newly single, who goes to Italy for two weeks of indulgence and distraction from her unsatisfying life.

Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson talks with Oliver about her novel, which was based on her own experience.

Interview Highlights

On writing 'Smoke, Drink, F*#k'

"I think that I was having a really hard time turning 40. I think a lot of women probably have a hard time turning 40, but, in particular, I think I did because I felt like most parts of my life were in a state of disarray and not where I thought they should be at that age. So I think it was cathartic to write about it."

On turning 40

"I think you feel like you're now entering middle age. When you're 30, and I had a hard time turning 30, too, you feel like you're losing your 20s, but you still have a lot of your youth. And I think when you hit 40 you feel like, ugh, I'm middle aged now, things are slowing down, it's not gonna be as much fun, I'm not as desirable. Those type of things.

"I thought that I would be living a life like I had when I grew up. I thought I'd be living in a big house and have a husband and maybe a couple kids or a dog. A very successful career. I think we grew up believing that, and that you could be anything and have everything, and I think that's where I saw my life at that age. And it was just not that way at all."

On her experience in Italy

"I was very fortunate. I had a good friend who had a house in Todi, Italy, and he offered it to me and a girlfriend for two weeks for my 40th birthday. So, I met her in the Atlanta airport where we were flying out together and I just said, 'Listen, I'm gonna go to Italy. I'm gonna smoke cigarettes, I'm gonna drink wine and I'm gonna have a fling with a guy, and I'm gonna write a story about it."

"I think we grew up believing ... that you could be anything and have everything, and I think that's where I saw my life at that age. And it was just not that way at all."

Esme Oliver

On the relationship she formed with the character 'Fernando'

"I think when I went there I just wanted it to be a fling. I really didn't want to know much about him. I didn't want to continue it. But when I got back to the States, we really missed each other. And we resumed a relationship and, you know, kept in touch pretty significantly and I did get to learn a lot about him when I was there and afterwards.

"I felt very liberated there, and I felt like he really understood me. And he was, you know, a free spirit, fun-loving and more charming probably than any man I've ever met in my life."

On the message of the novel and whether or not escaping from 'real life' works

"I think that things did work out. It didn't work out with him, but he was an optimist and he inspired me to do a lot of things. I started my own business after he and I split up. I mean, I think that the escape did end up benefiting me in the end."

On if this book was a reaction to 'Eat, Pray, Love'-type stories

"I think I wanted my book to show something different, which was maybe not the happy ending that everybody hopes for. I don't want to spoil the book, but this person who I fell madly in love with disappeared on me, and I think this has happened to a lot of women. And part of the reason I wrote the book was to help women get through that sort of heartbreak that I experienced.

"I never got my closure in my situation, and I think that that's one of the hardest things to deal with, and somebody to abandon you for no apparent reason that you really loved."

On advice for those turning 40

"I think it's no big deal to turn 40. I've had a great time in my 40s, and I don't think that everything has to be the way you think it has to be when you turn 40. I think that you should just sort of relish every decade that you have."

This article was originally published on April 03, 2017.

This segment aired on April 3, 2017.



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