I hear about this book ALL THE EFFING TIME. Even today, nine years after its release, girls on the road are still talking about it. And of course, whenever I’m in the conversation, I tend to join the hater’s camp, even though I’ve neither read the book nor seen the movie.
I decided earlier this year I should change that. If this many people are talking about a damn book about Bali, it can’t be half bad, right?
So, I read it. I even purchased it on Kindle for seven dollars or whatever, instead of just stealing it from a book exchange. You’re welcome, Miss Gilbert (or is it Mrs now? I have no idea).
Now, what I noticed early on in the book was, I was actually wrong about it being about a Bali trip. It’s actually about a one year trip to Italy, then India, and then Bali – hence the name Eat, Pray, Love. Ding.
For myself, and I assume for any regular red-blooded male, the book doesn’t begin well. Here’s the very first paragraph:
I wish Giovanni would kiss me. Oh, but there are so many reasons why this would be a terrible idea. To begin with, Giovanni is ten years younger than I am, and— like most Italian guys in their twenties— he still lives with his mother. These facts alone make him an unlikely romantic partner for me, given that I am a professional American woman in my mid-thirties, who has just come through a failed marriage and a devastating, interminable divorce, followed immediately by a passionate love affair that ended in sickening heartbreak. This loss upon loss has left me feeling sad and brittle and about seven thousand years old. Purely as a matter of principle I wouldn’t inflict my sorry, busted-up old self on the lovely, unsullied Giovanni. Not to mention that I have finally arrived at that age where a woman starts to question whether the wisest way to get over the loss of one beautiful brown-eyed young man is indeed to promptly invite another one into her bed. This is why I have been alone for many months now. This is why, in fact, I have decided to spend this entire year in celibacy.
Still awake? Cool.
The next few chapters she seems to to and fro between relaying strange thoughts, talking to herself, and rationalising her divorce. It’s pretty clear, at least to me, that this woman has more than a few crossed wires up there, but it’s quite an insight for us guys into the female brain. Consider this passage which comes shortly after the above, referring to David, the boytoy/fling she’s entertaining while waiting for her divorce to iron out:
David and I continued to have our bouts of fun and compatibility during the days, but at night, in his bed, I became the only survivor of a nuclear winter as he visibly retreated from me, more every day, as though I were infectious. I came to fear nighttime like it was a torturer’s cellar. I would lie there beside David’s beautiful, inaccessible sleeping body and I would spin into a panic of loneliness and meticulously detailed suicidal thoughts. Every part of my body pained me. I felt like I was some kind of primitive spring-loaded machine, placed under far more tension than it had ever been built to sustain, about to blast apart at great danger to anyone standing nearby. I imagined my body parts flying off my torso in order to escape the volcanic core of unhappiness that had become: me.
If that’s not a drama queen, I don’t know what is. Is that what’s going through a girl’s mind while we roll over and go to sleep? That’s what you’re thinking when we don’t cuddle? I think I understand now.
The next nine chapters are Miss Gilbert talking about herself, or more specifically, her divorce, or more specifically, her divorce that hasn’t yet happened but is going to happen soon. After 30 pages, it’s pretty clear that Elizabeth Gilbert has a debilitating case of rich white girl problems which is turning into quite the American telenovela. She owns an expensive house in New York; she has a husband who loves her and wants to raise a family together; she’s a successful published writer; she has a job that allows her to travel the world. Yet she’s absurdly miserable, or, in her own words, has “spent the last forty-seven consecutive nights sobbing on the bathroom floor.”
The first nine chapters (yes, nine) could be summed up as “I’m bored of being married. I filed for divorce and now we’re fighting over who gets our fancy New York house, apartment and all our money. It’s like, literally, like, ruining my life. I’m willing to give him everything (but not really) so I can just go and travel. I can’t decide whether to go to Italy, India or Indonesia so I’m going to all of them. And my boyfriend hates me.”
Ok fine, to be fair to Miss Gilbert, I’m paraphrasing. Quite heavily. But that’s essentially the first nine chapters of the book.
One thing I do notice at this point, however, is she’s a brilliant writer. She even gives me a few LOL’s, which are usually pretty hard to get out of me without using wildly immature toilet humour. I guess that’s why she gets book deals. But on the other hand, she just comes across as the most whiny, overly dramatic woman I think I’ve ever come across. Reading the first few chapters is like being stuck in an elevator with an ex-girlfriend you cannot stand, who is still in love with you, while she’s on her period.
Yet, something compels me to keep reading. When she finally gets to Italy to study Italian, I start to relate to her a little more. I’ve done the study a foreign language in a new city all alone before, and many of her observations resonate with me. I can’t say it’s riveting stuff, but most travellers will probably relate. We’re not quite on the same page, but we’re getting there.
However, halfway through her Italy spell I really struggle to read on. She is constantly harping on about her emotions and indecisiveness – “I like him, I don’t like him, but I do like him, but I don’t like him. I love eating, but I hate eating, oh but I love eating, but I hate eating.” I already lose my mind listening to that in real life, so I really, really struggle to voluntarily read an entire book about it. I find myself rolling my eyes constantly with an “ugh” and throwing the book aside to go on Youtube or watch the NBA highlights. I’ve heard this woman talk about her feelings so much I feel like I’m in a relationship with her.
We need a break.
I file the book away on my digital bookshelf and start reading Tim Ferriss’ 4 Hour Body instead. I’m reclaiming my manliness. It’s all about muscles and working out and superfoods. Grrr.
After two weeks, I decide to stop playing hard to get and open the book again. I miss you, Elizabeth. Tell me what you’ve been up to.
Italy ends without much action and she moves onto India. She goes to live in an ashram and makes friends with a bunch of other foreigners, living in this holy place of silence, prayer and meditation. I secretly hope this will help her filter her thoughts and clear her mind, and it sort of does, in a way. She’s a little less whiny.
But only a little.
The book does start to fall flat at this point. I mean, I’m sure it was interesting for her, but it’s not for the reader. She wakes up, meditates, eats, goes to sleep. That’s essentially her time in India.
At this stage, while reading through her words, my mind wanders and I’m not really digesting any of what she’s saying. Instead, while I mindlessly turn pages, I start to reflect a little on myself. Everything about her screams “princess” to me, but her and I have a few things in common. I also had a nice cushy job and left it for no other reason than I hated it. I travelled aimlessly around the world, too. She went to Italy to learn Italian “just because she felt like it”, and I went to Spain to do exactly the same thing. In the end, are we really so different, her and I? Maybe not. Ouch.
After India, I feel like Elizabeth and I need another time out. Our relationship’s not a cheery one. I’m finding it hard to listen to her emotional complexities, and she’s finding it hard to hold my attention for more than ten pages at a time.
We go on another break.
Almost a month later, when my Kindle is all out of books, I finally decide to finish this damn thing.
She’s in Bali. Woop. She manages to start some kind of odd friendship with a fortune teller, slash medicine man, slash spiritual healer, and she also befriends a traditional medicine lady who cures her UTI with a herbal potion, among other things. And of course, she meets a man. Welcome to the Love section of Eat, Pray, Love, gentlemen. And wow, she really is in love. She’s no longer whiny, wimpy and insane, she’s now all rainbows and raspberries and happy feelings.
“I have never been loved and adored like this before by anyone, never with such pleasure and single-minded concentration. Never have I been so unpeeled, revealed, unfurled and hurled through the event of love making…I’m losing days here, disappearing under his sheets, under his hands. I like the feeling of not knowing what the date is. My nice organized schedule has been blown away by the breeze.”
It’s a romantic comedy now – a chick flick, or at least the final twenty minutes of one. But I’ll be honest – despite the lovey dovey drivel, around this stage of the book she actually starts to win me over. The complaining ends, and she starts to embrace her adventure for what it is – an adventure. She’s no longer running away from her fancy New York life; she’s simply in Bali and enjoying being in Bali. Meeting new people, making friends, and making the most of a simpler, happier life. She’s embracing life on the road. Of course, the navel-gazing doesn’t end completely, but it becomes more positive and insightful. We start to find a few things in common. It seems travel has all but cured the mid-life crisis, or in her case, the mid-life raging apocalypse. Good for you, Liz.
And that’s really it. She falls in love and lives happily ever after. The end.
So I ripped on her a lot in this post, and I guess it’s because I didn’t really “get” half the book. At least half a dozen times I literally said out loud to my Kindle, “what the fuck are you saying?”
Whatever. I’m not apologising.
But to be completely fair, I needed to really sit back and ask myself honestly, what did I think of it?
I didn’t hate it. Not exactly, anyway. I did get to the end, after all. The incessant whining about nothing can be hard to get through, and I will admit I needed to skip a few pages here and there, but in the end I don’t begrudge her for leaving an unfulfilling domestic life to travel the world. Travel is an escape for many of us, after all. I did, however, find it selfish how she left her very loving husband because simply, in her own words, “I don’t want to be married anymore” but hey, I’m selfish too. We all are.
There are also great moments of wisdom in there, but interestingly, they don’t come from Gilbert herself but rather the people she meets along the way. For example, in India, she meets a guy called Richard, probably my favourite character in the story, who seems like an all around cool guy who’d be great to share a beer with. He drops this on her during one of her mental breakdowns about one of her boyfriends:
“People think a soul mate is your perfect fit, and that’s what everyone wants. But a true soul mate is a mirror, the person who shows you everything that’s holding you back, the person who brings you to your own attention so you can change your life. A true soul mate is probably the most important person you’ll ever meet, because they tear down your walls and smack you awake. But to live with a soul mate forever? Nah. Too painful. Soul mates, they come into your life just to reveal another layer of yourself to you, and then they leave.”
Then there’s Ketut, the palm reader/spiritual guru who I’m sure is a guazillionaire now:
“You have been to hell, Ketut?” He smiled. Of course he’s been.
“What’s it like in hell?”
“Same like heaven,” he said.
He saw my confusion and tried to explain. “Universe is a circle, Liss.”
I still wasn’t sure I understood.
He said, “To up, to down — all same, at end.”
I remembered an old Christian mystic notion: As above, so below. I asked. “Then how can you tell the difference between heaven and hell?”
“Because of how you go. Heaven, you go up, through seven happy places. Hell, you go down, through seven sad places. This is why it better for you to go up, Liss.” He laughed.
I asked , “You mean, you might as well spend your life going upward, through the happy places, since heaven and hell— the destinations—are the same thing anyway?”
“Same-same,” he said.
Little gems like this are definitely one of the book’s redeeming qualities, and they pop up semi-often throughout the latter half of the story.
Lastly, she does write extremely well – she’s candid, honest, and seems like a nice enough girl. Okay, so she’s a little crazy, but crazy is infinitely better than boring. If crazy gets her on an adventure around the world, so be it. And the book obviously appeals because, hey, she lives the ultimate fantasy – leaves a ‘miserable’ domestic life to adventure around the world and fall in love with a rich Latino businessman. What girl doesn’t fantasise about that?
It’s obviously a book aimed at women – I bet Oprah freakin’ loved it – so men, read at your own risk. I, personally, didn’t take any big inspiration from it, and there’s no way in hell I’d ever read it again. But, even for me, there were parts I enjoyed. It is a travel memoir after all, and in between the melodramatic rants there are actually some heart-warming travel moments in there, along with the aforementioned bobs of wisdom. Is it worth mowing through the fat to find them? I’ll let you decide for yourself.
As with my other book reviews, I need to give it a score out of 10, so I’ll go ahead and give it a generous 5.
Anyway, the best part now is, I can finally join in the discussion.
What, you guys are talking about Eat Pray Love? Oh yeah? Let me in here. I’ve read that shit.