Book Review: Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

26 Aug

I have been trying to write a review of Eat Pray Love for a few days now. Each time I come back to the draft, I keep deleting paragraphs and wanting to start from scratch. My opinion of the author, Elizabeth Gilbert, and her adventures in Italy, India and Indonesia just keeps changing. My first book review here at Prairie Journals, and I’m not even sure what I want to say.

Gilbert reminds me of me: she was 34 at the end of the story (I’m 34); she ran away from home to travel the world at an age when most women are bogged down with babies and responsibilities (I’ve run away to live overseas twice since turning 30); she makes consistent efforts to improve her life while sort of being consistently dragged back down by old, hard to break habits (hate to own up to that too, but there it is). What doesn’t remind me of me is the impetus for her journey. Gilbert was living the American well-to-do dream with her husband when she realised she didn’t actually want any of it, throwing herself not into her work or friends but straight into another difficult relationship, the disintegration of which propelled her right to the edge of an emotional breakdown. Thankfully, Ms Gilbert recognised that perhaps there are better ways to mend the soul than shagging one bloke after another, and she packed her bags and headed off on a journey of inspiration and healing.

First stop was Italy, to immerse herself in Italian language and culinary delights. This section is an arm-chair traveller’s dream, with tales of world-class pizza and gelato plus mind-bogglingly handsome men as far as the eye can see. Luckily Gilbert has begun a period of self-imposed celibacy at this time, thereby avoiding further emotional entanglements. From her description it sounded like this was no mean feat.

In India, Gilbert swaps olive oil and carbs for wholesome vegetarian fair as she grapples with the rigorous ways of an Indian yogic Ashram. I need to come clean here and say that I did not read all of this section. I have completed my yoga teacher training and just didn’t agree with most of what Gilbert was saying. She struck me as someone that couldn’t leave her thoughts about herself at the door and put in the commitment required to improved her life through yogic practices. You need to have faith that these practices, which are thousands of years old, might just be worth doing properly rather than fighting it the whole time. I’ve got news for you Elizabeth: everyone finds meditation hard, it takes discipline. It’s not all bells and whistles, visions and pretty lights. Why fly so far to try so little? Like I said, I didn’t finish this section so she may in fact have gotten over herself and achieved enlightenment. I’ll never know.

Next stop was my favourite part of the ride, Indonesia. Bali, to be specific. Here, Gilbert meets up with the Balinese medicine man who first planted the seed for this journey two years earlier when she was there on a work junket. Gilbert observes him as he patiently helps patients from all walks of life, putting in very long hours for very little renumeration and smiling all the while. Bali introduces us to an assortment of other interesting characters, too. There is Yudhi, a Javanese man who married a New Yorker but was deported from the U.S. after 9/11. There is Wayan, a female healer who has done the unthinkable by Balinese standards and left her abusive husband. And then there is Felipe, handsome Brazilian man and lover extraordinaire. For those like myself who have not visited Bali, it is fascinating to read about the different customs which take up many of the waking hours of regular Balinese folk. I do however think there is a lot more to be told about the Balinese way of life than what is described here. Gilbert says the custom of living in rigid family compounds produces the most “sane, protected, calm, happy and balanced” people in the world, yet the Balinese characters she meets are generally few, if any, of these things. They are products of an economically unstable, patriarchal society that punishes anyone who does not conform. We meet a pair of orphans who have been pimped out to beg on the streets. The healer, Wayan, discusses how women are beaten or divorced by their husbands if they cannot produce a child, even if it is the man is infertile. Hmm, doesn’t sound happy or balanced to me.

I’ve been pretty hard on Elizabeth Gilbert, I know, but I did enjoy the book overall. Eat Pray Love is not just a book; it is a publishing phenomenon. I was working in a bookstore at the time of its release, and it was impossible to keep any copies on the shelf. If there was such a thing as ‘most-recommended book of all time’ I’m sure this would be a strong contender. Most of the popularity is not about the story itself, as the three countries examined are by no means unchartered territory. It is Gilbert’s unwavering engagingness, if that’s a word, that hooks people in and keeps them reading. She is just so likeable. Gilbert herself is aware of this, describing how she has just always been surrounded by people; this is one of the reasons she had the confidence to travel the world alone, as she knew she would just make friends wherever she went. This of course has been somewhat of an obstacle for her because she has never spent enough time by herself to know what she wants, or that sometimes it’s healthy and ok to be alone.

Would I recommend this book to others? Yes, with the warning that sensible people might find Elizabeth Gilbert to be on the slightly flaky side.

My rating: 3 out of 5

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7 Responses to “Book Review: Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert”

  1. Col August 27, 2010 at 1:21 pm #

    This is a book that came to me as a gift and highly recommended. I opened the cover to begin my read with much anticipation. By the last page I admit to harbouring mixed feelings. Some of it I loved and at times I greatly empathized with the authors internal struggles. But between those moments I found a lot of fluff which truthfully left me a little bored. Not a favourite … but a good summer read.

  2. PrairieJournals August 27, 2010 at 1:36 pm #

    You summed up my feelings exactly. I wanted to like the book more than I actually did…it was kind of a struggle to get through.

  3. steph August 30, 2010 at 11:03 pm #

    EPL is is one of my favourite books and Gilbert’s one of my favourite authors! I didn’t have any issues with the book at all, at least that I remember. But I think this is because I felt as though she and I were practically the same person, even though I haven’t done the things she did. I wonder if I’ll have a different view after reading it a second time?

    I have to admit I didn’t really understand your criticism of her time in India. I know you didn’t finish that section but it seems you are imposing on her what you’ve learned and feel to be true about yoga when it’s completely valid for her to have struggled with the ideas and practices and to have not reached “enlightenment.” It’s okay for her not to have “got it,” for her to have been unable to “leave her thoughts at the door,” even for her to have found the effort so difficult she didn’t really try; it was her personal experience. It’s about the journey, not the destination, in this memoir, after all, and the yogic experience is not for everyone.

    Ugh. I don’t feel I’m explaining what I mean here properly!

    Anyway, I totally respect what you thought of the book, of course, and I loved your bit at the end. Gilbert’s often said she never dreamed the book would be such a raging success, but as you say, she’s likable. It’s impossible not to be taken in by her honest, intimate, conversational tone.

    • PrairieJournals August 30, 2010 at 11:51 pm #

      It’s true that I was not at all objective in criticising her time in India, and I’m looking at her experience through my own lens. I wasn’t concerned that she didn’t reach enlightenment, I didn’t reach enlightenment and don’t know anyone who has, except possibly the swami who taught me. I think it was her lack of effort after going so far, and resisting the teachings so much, as if she knew better. You’re right, she doesn’t have to leave her thoughts at the door, or do anything else, but I don’t have to like it, either. That section of the book just didn’t grab me. It’s good that you have a different perspective though since that’s what books are for, to prompt reactions and thoughts and discussions. We’ll all have different views since we’re all bringing our own experience to the table. I’m thinking about reading Committed to see how her relationship progressed with the handsome Felipe

      • PrairieJournals August 31, 2010 at 12:07 am #

        Actually, I thought more about it and I think Elizabeth Gilbert reminds me of me when I first started my yoga course, in that I wouldn’t meditate as much as I was told to because I found it boring and annoying etc, and when I look back at myself at that time I think I was stubborn and self-absorbed and should have listened more. So yes, I think that’s what I thought of Liz when she was doing the same. So, how much do I owe you for the psychotherapy? 😉

  4. steph August 31, 2010 at 6:44 pm #

    Haha! Nothing, of course.

    PS. Committed was okay. I admit it made me think a lot but at the same time, it was easier for me to put down. I did have some issues with it, I think. I don’t quite remember. Here I what I wrote about it (it’s long, so even I’m not going to read it again!) 🙂 http://www.in-other-words-blog.com/personal/committed/

  5. steph August 31, 2010 at 6:45 pm #

    PS. The comments were pretty cool on that post I just gave you!

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