I've recently given in. I normally don't go for the Oprah-style self-help mumbo-jumbo. However, the hype surrounding "Eat, Pray, Love" by Elizabeth Gilbert was just too frenzied to ignore. So I gave in and read the book. "Eat, Pray, Love" is about "one woman's search for everything across Italy, India" and blah, blah, blah, do we really care?
"Liz" starts out in the first chapter by making me smirk. She is sitting across from a real Italian Stallion at a table in a cafe in Rome, and contemplating sleeping with him. Then it occurs to her that at that point in her life (her mid-30s I might add), that it may not be wise to try to get over another man by getting involved with a new one. Is it just me, or am I the only one who thinks that one should already know that? If this is supposed to be profound, she's really missing the mark.
Before this journey Liz embarks on, she has just divorced her husband who basically took her for everything she had. She had been living with a man named David with whom she'd been having an extramarital affair and this relationship wasn't working either but she was still pining away for him. Basically she's a serial monogamist with attachment disorder. So Liz decides to undertake a "spiritual journey" as well as a geographical one, all the while planning to write this book about it. She'd also been able to take this journey of hers because of the advance she'd acquired in preparation for this book. Sound fishy already?
The book is divided up into sections, hence the title "Eat, Pray, Love". The "Eat" section is where newly divorced Liz moves from New York to Italy to further her study of the Italian language and to eat carbs with wild abandon. Sounds good, but she spends most of her four months there moping around and using food as a crutch to help her deal with her depression. She meets some nice people and eats a lot. Gluttony is not becoming. Move on to section two.
Section two is the "Pray" section. She moves to an ashram in India for four months so that she can meditate. This is the part where we're supposed to think that Liz is just "oh so spiritual" because she meditates. She whines on about how hard it is for her at first to meditate because of her emotional baggage and the only saving grace is a Texan named Richard who won't let her mope around. Richard is like her own personal gadfly, never letting her just coast along and settle for her misery. One thing that Richard said to her when she was whining about missing David was that soul mates are not supposed to be forever. That they're designed to essentially come into your life, show you parts of yourself that you never knew existed and then move on. I have felt that way as well, and it's something that I truly believe in so I could identify with that.
So Liz eventually settles down into meditating and then tries to explain to us how she has become enlightened in India. From a Buddhist perspective, if you notice your own enlightenment, that ain't it. Sorry, Liz. You're not a Buddha. The sensation she was trying to describe is familiar to me, and I've also read about a lot of other people who have described it that way, but to actually hint that you've attained enlightenment at the end of four months of ashram living is way off the mark. Perhaps I'm just being too cynical, but even so I just love the way that life comes along and kicks you in the ass as soon as you think you've got things figured out. It doesn't let you start to feel smug, which is the way this book felt to me. A journey across Italy, India and Bali where nothing really happens but you somehow feel the sense of entitlement enough to become smug.
Next we move on to Bali, where Liz had visited before. This is where she's supposed to find a balance between earthly pleasure and spirituality. Liz meets up with an old medicine man that she'd met on her previous trip who'd told her that she was going to come back and live with his family for four months. On arriving the medicine man has no recollection of her at first, but explains it away as if it's just because she looks like an entirely new woman. This is supposed to make us feel that yes, she has had a wonderful transformation due to her spiritual journey. See how that works?
I actually liked a lot of the section on Bali, because there were other interesting and more developed characters in the book and I didn't have to be all alone with Liz for extended periods of time while I was reading. This is of course where Liz meets "The Great Love of Her Life". Because a self-help book written by a woman and for women can't end until the female heroine has met "The Great Love of Her Life". Which of course she can only meet after learning to love herself.
I know that this book is supposed to be autobiographical and that she is actually still involved with this man. However, the book could have ended just as well without implying that to really figure your life out, your place in the universe and to be emotionally healthy, that you need to find a man in the end. This idea that "real love", this mature, romantic love can only be achieved after you've worked out your own personal demons and after you've learned to love yourself is entirely overdone. It is insulting to the intellect of every female alive to have the outcome of every volume of "chick lit" end with a great romantic love story. Real life is not reflective of that ideal, and I wonder how much of this "autobiography" was embellished to adhere to that formula; how much of the story was omitted because it didn't fit with the way the book flowed and how the story needed to transpire in order for this book to become "The Next Big Thing".
All in all I enjoyed the book, but sometimes I became smug in Liz's stead and laughed and pointed at her while shrieking, "You don't realise that yet?!" in my most infuriated inner monologue voice. It's worth a read because some of the advice that other people have given her is worthwhile but just because she was the one that wrote it down and published it, it doesn't mean that it's coming from her. I can't even get into how her privileged life has allowed her to take an entire year off from working or living in the real world in order to turn her life around in the first place. Or how misleading it is to her devout followers, The Oprahites who take her word as gospel and memorise passages from this book as they all wait around for "The Great Love of Their Lives" to materialise now that they've been saved by proxy through Gilbert's experience. Eat, pray, gag.
Perhaps this book is above me because I'm young. Perhaps it's because I'm not divorced. Maybe I'm too cynical and Elizabeth Gilbert is a great mystic, after all. Excuses aside, I still think I'm going to wait around for life to kick Liz on the arse and remind her that she's not finished yet; that she really doesn't have things all figured out into nice little packages. The universe will right itself on its own, after all. It always does.
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