Wednesday, 6 October 2010

88: "Eat Pray Love" by Elizabeth Gilbert

Publisher: Bloomsbury
Page count: 384 pages
Date begun: October 2nd, 2010
Date finished: October 5th, 2010

WARNING! CONTAINS SPOILERS!

Everywhere I turn recently, there seems to be some mention of Eat Pray Love. Elizabeth Gilbert has been on the Oprah show, it's been turned into a big movie with Julia Roberts and Javier Bardem. It's an international bestseller. One of my friends bought it to read on her very long plane ride to Peru this summer, thinking that it would be an easily disposable book - but ended up loving it, carrying it around with her on her three week trip, and took it back home with her. Having thought it was just the tale of one woman's trip round the world, I was curious, and decided I needed to read it for my blog.

I wanted to hate this book. Having seen the trailer for the movie, the whole thing seems so smug. To begin with, I really did hate the book, or at least Elizabeth Gilbert herself. She complains about being trapped in her perfect marriage with her understanding husband and their two homes in New York and I did not really see why I should be sympathetic to a person who leaves her husband to live with a younger actor, gets divorced, depressed and ends up ruining her relationship to both men. Needing to find herself and properly define herself as a person, Elizabeth Gilbert wanted to go to Italy to explore the art of pleasure, to India to explore spiritual devotion and to Bali to explore the balance between pleasure and devotion. Luckily, unlike lots of other women who suffer through gruelling divorces, her publisher paid her an advance, so she had the money to go off for a year and visit all these countries and do all these things.

She decides to spend four months in each place, and she wants to be celibate for the whole year, because sex messes things up and interferes with things. In the Eat part, she moves to Italy to learn Italian, and meets lots of nice people and eats and eats and eats and in the beginning pissed me off with her stories of how she loves travelling the world, but never uses guide books and seems proud to sort of stumble through things unprepared. She goes to a language school and does indeed learn quite a lot of Italian in four months, and manages to stop using anti-depressants because she has conversations with herself in a notebook.

Then, for the Pray part, she goes to India and lives in an Ashram and tries to find closeness with God. At first, she has trouble meditating and hates chanting and is unable to get into the whole spiritual release thing. She meets some straight talking man from Texas who refuses to listen to her self-pitying bullshit, and she eats vegetarian food and scrubs temple floors and in the end, obviously masters all the things she came there to do, and hugs trees and feels at one with the universe just in time for her to leave for Bali.

In Bali, she goes to find an old medicine man she met there years before. He read her palm and said she should come live with him, and he would teach her everything he knows. When she returns, he doesn't recognize her, because she's all happy now. He teaches her more meditation techniques and she sees how he heals people, and also befriends a lovely Balinese divorcee doctor, who has to move from place to place and struggles to take care of her precocious daughter and two adopted orphans. The lady becomes Liz' new best friend, and she manages to get all her friends and acquaintances to donate enough money that she can buy a house for the lovely doctor, and her endearing kids. She also breaks her vow of celibacy when she meets and falls in love with a Brazilian man 17 years older than her, and completes the Love part of the book.

I actually liked bits of the book a lot, but overall, this is the story of a smug middle class American woman who got to travel the world for a year on someone else's dime, and because she had to spend a lot of time alone and thinking about herself and her life, got over her divorce just fine. Some of the stories told in the book are very funny, and wryly and interestingly narrated. She describes things well and I really did find myself wanting to go to Italy and Bali, although the Ashram part didn't really grab me too much. Reading about someone else's spiritual enlightenment just isn't that interesting. The travelogue bits are much better. I am not sure why this book has become so very popular, but I suspect Oprah Winfrey's recommendation has something to do with it. It's not a bad book, by all means, but it's not a very good book either.

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