Never has a woman embodied that old saying “when a door closes, another one opens” quite like Elizabeth Gilbert.
There she was, married and nesting, trying to get preggers, when she realized that women who really want husbands and babies probably don’t sob for hours every night on their bathroom floors. Three years and one nasty divorce later, Gilbert had lost it all. Broke and bereft, she had no idea where to go or what to do.
Then her publisher had a great idea. They’d give Gilbert an advance that would enable her to travel abroad for a year, writing the book that would become the mega-bestseller Eat, Pray, Love.
Some people have all the luck.
Gilbert segmented her trip—and her book—into three equal parts. The first stop was Italy, home of gastronomic and linguistic pleasure; next came India, where all the serious people go to connect with God; finally, Bali, to learn…erm…something about balance. If you’ve been trolling this blog for a while, you’ll know I was not particularly keen to read Eat, Pray, Love, but I will happily admit that the book was much better than I feared. Gilbert’s writing is witty and charmingly self-deprecating, and she has a wonderful way of drawing threads through the story that make the whole journey—or at least the resulting book—cohesive and complete.
The section on Italy will make you drool. Hell, it’ll probably make you fat. (Is there a volume of Eat This Not That for Italian food? It’s probably Not That! No, Not That Either!) Gilbert’s life in Italy is almost unbearably dreamy. She does nothing but whatever she wants, every day—mainly eating gelato and speaking Italian—for four pound-packing months.
Oh, it hurts not to be her.
But I stopped feeling so envious in part two, when Gilbert heads to India for four months of spiritual calisthenics. I’m sure her descriptions are all very insightful and magical…but if you are not especially spiritual or into meditation you may find this portion of the book boring. Or loony. I sort of wanted to pat her on the head the whole time and say, “Sure, lady. Mm-hmm.” (And I’m not the only one. I talked to two genuine grade-A middle-aged moms—the demographic voted Most Likely to Inhale This Book—and even they skipped parts of this section.)
Finally, Gilbert whiles away the final leg of her journey in Bali, and in her search for balance she’s back to her old witty ways. Her portrayal of the culture and characters of this tiny Indonesian island is both charming and fascinating. And by the end, the broken woman we met at the beginning of the story has become happy, balanced, and whole.
So I gotta say that overall I was pleasantly surprised. Hear me now—Eat, Pray, Love is a thoughtful and enjoyable book.
But I do have to bring up one teensy weensy little thing.
I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that so brazenly celebrated self-absorption. I know, I know—it’s the genre. It’s what Gilbert’s publishers paid for. I get it. Still, what is with female readers and their excessive navel-gazing? Unlike most literary works, which at least cover a number of characters and ideas, this book is literally about one person. It’s kind of about the pursuit of pleasure; it’s kind of about praying; it’s kind of about balance. But mostly it’s about Elizabeth Gilbert. In short, one of America’s very favorite reads for the past 61 weeks is about someone who spends a year doing nothing but thinking about herself. Is this the new American dream? Looking at our literature, it certainly seems that way. Too bad only the very very fortunate get paid for it.