Monday, January 14, 2008

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

I read Eat, Pray, Love several months ago for book club, and I have to say I was horribly disappointed. I know this is a terribly unpopular opinion, but I could not stand this book. Obviously this book spoke to a lot of people, but it truly is beyond my comprehension. Despite a great title and a decent premise, I found the the book both disappointing and aggravating from beginning to end. To me, the author came across as self-absorbed and irritating, and her 'insights' into the people she met and the places she went were shallow and annoying. The endless reflection on the horror of a marriage that didn't seem that horrible to me, and the quest for spirituality that had Gilbert chatting with God in India made finishing this book a torment.

Finding out that Gilbert got the book advance before heading out on her journey made total sense to me; I definitely felt the trip fit into the book proposal rather than the other way around. The fact that Gilbert's giant spiritual journey to learn how to be alone ends with her pairing up with a Brazilian expat was the final straw; I certainly don't believe she grew or learned anything at all about herself on this quest. On Amazon, I recommended getting this book from the library because I was seriously annoyed that I helped fund this venture by spending money on this drivel.

We read Eat, Pray, Love in book club because one of our members had just returned from her honeymoon where she read and fell in love with this book. I suppose that the honeymoon glow might have impacted her decision- goodness knows I love the movie Dodgeball because I saw it on my honeymoon. Nevertheless, no one else in my group liked this book (though no one else was as virulent in their hatred as was I). It is clear to me that I'm in the minority, that most readers love this book and the message it sends, but for the life of me I can't figure out why. If you read this one, and loved it, can you please share your reasons? Can you help me try to understand this phenomenon?

Other reviews (per Weekly Geeks):
The 3 R's


Anonymous said...

Loved loved loved this book.

I see your point about her self-absorption and yes, it was convenient that she had the funds and the time to do the trip with the book advance. Valid points.

But I thought there was something very real about her unflinching embrace of her flaws and her self-reflection. I felt (going from memory here as I read it several months ago) that she owned her screw-ups and was really trying to understand herself and what might bring her happiness. I applaud anyone who has the self-awareness and courage to do that. It's much easier to sleepwalk through the day and convince yourself that your happy.

Everyone understands if you end a marriage that is abusive, or if you fall in love with someone else (maybe not forgives or condones, but usually understands the motive). But you are not as easily forgiven if you end a marriage because you feel in your soul it's just not "right".

I thought the author was sincere in her quest, no matter how contrived it might have felt in following a book plot outline. I think, in this day and age, most people only strive to not be miserable...I admire people who want to really "suck the marrow out of life".

CQ in DC said...

I think your explanation of her life was a heck of a lot more comprehensible than her own- I might have had more empathy if she simply stated flat out that she fell out of love with someone who just wasn't right. I guess I never felt like she unflinchingly embraced anything, and I remain pretty pissed that the whole journey of self discovery ended with her finding the perfect man. Regardless, I appreciate your thoughts on why the book spoke to you.

Can I ask if part of the reason it resonated was that you would welcome the opportunity to engage in such a journey of self-discovery? Lots of people intimated on Amazon that I hated the book because I was jealous of the author's ability to go on this quest, which I truly believe is not the case because I travel all the time (albeit for other reasons). It did make me wonder if perhaps many readers who loved the book did so in part because the ability to make such a spiritual (and actual) journey was a sort of dream-come-true, giving them a different appreciation for her motives than I could possibly have.

Anonymous said...

Well, first, I would never say that you must not have liked the book because you were jealous of her journey. You DO travel more than anyone I know, so I wouldn't imagine that would be an accurate indication of why you didn't like the book. :)

I see what you're saying, but I honestly don't think that's why I appreciated the book. I mean, I DID like how the journey mirrored her emotional reflection and growth (even though I concede how that could seem too contrived), but I don't harbor any fantasties to do the same. Hell, most people have said to ME that I have lived out something that they wish they had the courage to do - pick up and start a brand new life someplace else, even with 3 kids. I've changed jobs when I felt compelled to, changed states when I felt compelled to...I feel that I fully live my choices and am happy with that. As mundane as it can be, I've lived a "pretty big adventure" so far with having kids and all that entails. So I don't think that's why the book speaks to me.

What DOES speak to me is her yearning to figure out her own self. Even if we the reader can sometimes see what she can't. For example - you feel that she didn't full "own" leaving her marriage because it just wasn't right, whereas I saw the struggle differently. I saw a woman who wrote honestly about trying to justify it because she didn't feel that she COULD come right out and say that it just wasn't right - I don't think society embraces that choice. So I felt that we were watching her struggle to come to terms with that choice, and that was very real to me. I don't think she was ready to "own" it per se, but I also don't remember (again, read it many moons ago) her trying to pretend she left under false pretenses. I thought that she was trying to figure herself out - why the marriage wasn't enough, why she wasn't enough, why she felt the way she was.

I'm probably not explaining myself clearly, partly because I'm going on memory with the book and partly because I'm quite sleep deprived and a tad hung over. :)