Book Review: Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

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I very rarely get the opportunity to read Chick Lit. Let me rephrase that. I rarely get to read anything that doesn’t involve the words “non-fiction” or “case study.” I usually hoard a few titles for our vacations every year, and this year finally got around to reading Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert. I had only a vague idea of what the book would be like (a woman travels right?) so I dove in one night while sitting by the early evening campfire with Neil.

In the first hour I’m pretty sure my scoffing and grumbles could be heard around the campground. I almost stopped reading. I hated Gilbert. The no nonsense “just get over it” part of me wanted to scream at her through the book. She felt trapped in her marriage and seemingly every night was spending hours secretly locked in the bathroom sobbing uncontrollably over how and when to end it and what life would mean outside the expectations that seemingly all women face. You get married. You have babies. You’re a mother and a wife, and whatever follows is nothing different than anyone else before you. Sound harsh? Well in the moment that my eyes rolled over that sentence I perked up. Well actually it was a little before that, on page 11:

“I saw the joy in her face and I recognized it. This was the exact joy my own face had radiated last spring, the day I discovered that the magazine I worked for was going to send me on assignment in New Zealand, to write an article about the search for giant squid. And I thought, “Until I can feel as ecstatic about having a baby as I felt about going to New Zealand to search for a giant squid, I cannot have a baby.”

Exotic locations and giant squid aside, this situation has seemingly been on repeat for me my entire life. Growing up, I never wanted to be mommy when we played house, never fantasized about my would-be husband or my dream wedding and never secretly bought shit for my unborn children. Even at eleven, it all felt so prescribed, like a factory conveyer belt where nothing can deviate from a single form line. My dad always used to say that he was raising me to be exceptional in anything I chose, always emphasizing that doing what everyone else did for the sake of fitting in or not being uncomfortable was as bad as not trying at all. So as someone straddling the “childfree or not” fence and not looking to follow what most people typify as the “American dream,” Gilbert had my full attention.

Still reeling from the bitter divorce and break-up with her first post-divorce relationship, Gilbert quits her job, puts her belongings in storage, and secures an advance from her publisher for a book about the loosely planned year-long trip to discover God and the nature of her existence.

“I wanted to explore one aspect of myself set against the backdrop of each country, in a place that has traditionally done that one thing very well,” she writes. “I wanted to explore the art of pleasure in Italy, the art of devotion in India and, in Indonesia, the art of balancing the two.”

You never really get a picture of the extent of her metaphysical crisis, only that she came close to suicide, and struggles with depression and anxiety. Each time she touches upon depression, or uncomfortably dark moments or experiences, she tends to interject a lot of humor to seemingly cloud the issue, ready to move on. In fact, you never get a picture of any of her real-life baggage while she’s traveling. Everything is carefully crafted and anything negative is tucked away. Kind of like Disneyland.

Each country brings about its own reformation. Italy makes Gilbert feel whole again. She attempts to master indulgence and self-love without questioning if she deserves it or not. In the process she explores Italy without a map, taking in the food, history and language, and why Italians are so successful at being…Italian. Italy serves as a band-aid. India serves to strip away the indulgence of Italy and focus inward with the goal of being self-fulfilled and self-reliant through meditation and the ability to quiet one’s own mind. Bali serves to balance the natures of both, although Gilbert admits in the book that by the time she got to Bali, all the goals she had set for herself in the trip had already been met.

Overall, it was a fun light read that makes you think about your own life. If you love food and travel with a bit of history and talk of religion that isn’t evangelical Christianity, it’s a look both backward and forward with a breath of fresh air. For me, it was the reassurance that life outside “married and pregnant by 30” is not only possible but optimal if you become the administrator of your own happiness. If you read other reviews you’ll find that the bulk of readers find her to be unaware of her privilege and self-absorbed. I don’t disagree. What I do think though is that any journey of SELF-discovery can’t be anything but self-absorbed. You can’t find yourself unless you self-analyze and you can’t write a book about it unless you use the word “I.”

So will I see the movie? Of course. Neil’s taking me tomorrow. He just doesn’t know it yet.



Comments

  1. I am reading this right now, so I didn’t read the whole post – just in case! I want to go see the move, too. I know I can’t get Steven to take me though. :)

  2. Your last two sentences sum it up perfectly. Great review!

  3. @Christa Well we’re thinking of going tomorrow if you want in!
    @Kathleen I think it sums up a reply to every review I’ve read so far. It’s like, how are you supposed to self-discover if you aren’t focused on yourself?

  4. Very accurate review of the book! It wasn’t exactly my favorite read (I got bored in the India section) but overall it makes you take a good look at your life and your happiness as an individual.

    I’ll probably drag my husband to see the movie too :)

  5. The India section did feel very long in some points. I tried to just accept it as part of the meditation process, lots of trying, failing, and inability to connect or feel anything. But yeah, I was reading fast through some of it.

  6. Sure, Gilbert is incredibly privileged and a Year of Self-Discovery Across the Globe is not going to be the average woman’s ticket to enlightenment, but she is both lucky and likable, and I can’t hold that against her. I enjoyed the book when I read it a few years ago – it inspired me to make some small changes in my own life, changes for the better. We can’t all go to Italy, but we can eat with more enjoyment at home. That sort of thing. And I love the idea that you don’t have to find meaning in husband and children – you can find outside of yourself, for yourself. Call me a narcissist if you want – I am!

    And now: SPOILER ALERT BELOW!

    She has a follow-up book called Committed, that deals a lot with marriage equality and immigration, as she falls in love in Indonesia and her lover wants to move to the US to be with her, but cannot do so unless they get married. At which point she reflects more of on her privilege, in this case of being heterosexual, since a gay couple from different counties wouldn’t even have that option. Something I never considered when thinking about and advocating for gay marriage. Haven’t read the book yet, but I want to!

  7. Yup, I have the book on order! In the vid I linked she talks about it. I can’t wait. and great points!

  8. love that book! I read it at just the right time in my life (a time of definite exploration). I can’t wait to see the movie and hope I can find some time to do so soon.

  9. Yeah it was timely for me as well. We’re just passing the first year of marriage mark and as we live in the midwest if you aren’t knocked up and buying houses by 25 you’re already bucking some major institutions. We want more from our life than to just settle for the order that seemingly everyone else molds to.

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