Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat Pray Love (2006)

In retrospect, I don’t quite know what I was looking for when I picked “Eat Pray Love” up. I’m not a religious person, so I normally don’t read anything in this genre, and I don’t have any comparative reading (or factual) experience. I’ve travelled quite a lot, but I never found myself on a spiritual journey. That’s why the part I loved best was Italy: it was more about friends and earthly pleasures, like a travel account, and less spiritual. But lucky me, I’m not in the same situation (heartbroken and lost) as Elizabeth Gilbert was when she set out to her 3-tier-journey in Italy, India and Indonesia. So eventually, the feeling I got from the book is tentative at best (proof: I’ve been writing this review for about a month with much hesitation).

In short, I enjoyed the book but I have reservations. Not about her intentions but about the book as a result. At no point of the book was I truly worried about her. She says how depressed she was, but it doesn’t show. She makes jokes about it, as if to defuse any tension. She seems stressed and jittery (and a tad immature) but she has friends and family and she doesn’t look like she has real problems. The problem partly comes from the structure of her narration: she makes it very clear from the beginning that everything has ended up alright, that she has found happiness through her journey. It perhaps makes her spiritual message clearer, but to me there was not much at stake to follow her. I’m glad for her, but I don’t find anything for me in there.

To go even further, I must confess that, while I was perfectly happy with her all the time I read the book, I started to get slightly annoyed by her bubbling, overperky personality when I thought about it again later. It’s telling that in her Indian ashram she was appointed hostess (she compares herself most candidly with The Love Boat’s TV character Julie McCoy), but it’s a bit tiring. As a typical uptight, emotionally-distant European, I started to get sarcastic (poor little rich girl) and – in all honesty – jealous of her. I can’t afford to make this kind of exotic journey – I have no time nor money (even though obviously I would benefit from advices about a balanced life). Her spiritual quest is not at fault, but I really can’t see how inspiring it can be to people, because her circumstances are very extraordinary. I don’t think that she would have been as successful (both spiritually and in popular terms) if she had tried to connect with God and her inner self in her own kitchen. On the cover of my edition, there is a blurb by Anne Lamott: I can understand the connexion (both dynamic and friendly women who candidly talk to God), but Anne Lamott doesn’t need an exotic location to make her appeal to God riveting and touching (perhaps because she has real problems to talk to God about).

Elizabeth Gilbert speaks very personally in this book, so I end up having difficulties to separate my judgment about her and my judgment of her book. My feeling is that she has a very passionate and outgoing personality, and it’s very exciting for us readers to hear about her next step, as if we were friends, but this is not my life and I don’t wish it for myself. We’re just too different, so I doubt we would hang out together in real life. Perhaps it’s time for me to re-read Anne Lamott!

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7 thoughts on “Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat Pray Love (2006)

  1. I felt exactly the same way you did about this book–but you explain it much better than I have ever been able to. I totally appreciate her journey, but not being a religious person I couldn’t really get into it like other readers did. My favorite section was Italy as well as it followed a more tradition travel narrative style. I’m not sure this is true or not, but I read that she sold the book idea to a publisher first and then traveled later. I’m not sure it really matters, but I thought that was interesting.

    • Danielle – Yes, I think that my review is skewed by the fact that I’m not a religious person. I can’t deny the pleasure I had while reading it. I can understand how people will speak highly of this book though, and she sure made me dream about a great and long holidays overseas! But if what you heard is true, I find it disturbing…
      Oh – Yay for Lamott’s book! When I was pregnant, her Operating Instructions (on the first year with her son) were immensely helpful and spiritual at the same time!

  2. Glad to read your honest review on this book. I have picked it up several times (at the store) and put it back down. Guess I’m not ready for it in whatever way. Thanks for the advice, though. I’m likely better off to finish the Lamott books even though I started first with GRACE EVENTUALLY.

  3. Interesting. I’m kind of an ex-religious person, but I’m definitely still interested in spirituality, so perhaps that influenced my enjoyment of the book more than I realize. I was initially irritated by the book’s perkiness, but I felt that faded away as the book went on, and she seemed to find a voice that worked better. But I was fascinated by the ashram section, and if that material doesn’t interest, I can see why you’d feel so conflicted about it!

  4. I started to read this & enjoyed the Italy section. But, I’ve been in that ashram from weeks now and just can’t seem to finish more than a page or two at a time. I haven’t quite been able to identify why it is that I couldn’t read forward in this book, but maybe you have captured the reason here — there seems something artificial in a “i think I’ll go to India now & get some enlightenment so that all of my big self-centered problems go away” manner. It isn’t that it isn’t sincere, but rather that it seems a bit impractical. Much more difficult to find one’s spiritual sense in the everyday than in the exotic. I doubt that I’ll ever finish the India section. I stole a glance at the last two chapters of the book so I’m not at all convinced that I have anything to gain by spending time reading more.

    • Cam- I read your comment too fast and I believed for an instant that you really were in an ashram… lol! Glad I’m not the only one having reservation on that book, although the author is really nice!

  5. Pingback: Indian Summer Shopping Spree « Smithereens

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