Friday, December 3, 2010

Response: Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

Yes, I finally finished reading Eat, Pray, Love.  Please note that this is a response and not a review.  I just couldn't keep myself out of this one!  Although a Reader-Response critique is not the best approach to any book, one can't help but draw on what one feels and thinks.  In the case of Eat, Pray, Love, I could NOT separate my own life from Gilbert's, which is why this reading took me so very long.  Did I like it?  No--and yes.  It's all very complicated.

Synopsis:  Elizabeth Gilbert found herself in a complicated, unfulfilled marriage, questioning why she settled for relationships that didn't fully meet her needs.  After continuing to cry out to God, the universe, or to whatever higher power that might be listening, Gilbert let go of her crazy life and marriage to travel to Italy, India, and Indonesia for one year.  In each location, Gilbert spent four months.  Italy served as the basis for "Eat" as she devoured gorgeously prepared Italian foods like pizza without thought of her waistline.  India was her locale for "Pray" as she studied at an ashram, learning to quiet her mind and be at peace.  Finally, Indonesia became her place of "Love" in that she accepted and loved herself, but also found the unexpected love of another man near the conclusion of her journey.

Review:  Unsettled would be a good word to use with my reading of Eat, Pray, Love.  In the beginning I found myself so annoyed by Gilbert's constant whining about her marriage and non-stop relationships with men, that I wanted to shake her.  It quickly became apparent to me that I was NOT going be able to separate my own mid-30's, single viewpoint from the text.  Having suffered from one gut-wrenching break up that has challenged my adulthood, to smaller possible relationships that went the wayside, I just couldn't sympathize with Gilbert's view.  Basically, she seemed to feel that *gasp* she had always had a man in her life and always viewed the glass half full, only to be disappointed by their eventual failings.  Okay, so that would be frustrating, but altering to the point of stopping in your tracks to go live overseas for a year?  Who gets to ever do that in real life?  Who gets to be so self-indulgent that they can put a time out on the world to just center and align themselves to God and the universe?  Well, not me.  I have bills to pay and students to teach.  Yes, I will admit to being jealous that someone could justify themselves into such a journey. 

As mentioned, I really was jealous of the journey Gilbert went on.  I was so jealous that I could feel myself turning green around the edges!  Here's the thing.  How could I ever justify or afford such a journey of the soul?  When you've been raised to "put one foot in front of the other," to face challenges head on, it's often hard to swallow a more freewheeling view of self-discovery.  Maybe my own Western ideology about facing challenges prevented me from connecting to Gilbert and I should just own it.  Could it be that I could use some decompressing and self-centered discovery?  Why yes.  I'm sure I could.  I just know that there is no time or place for me to really take that kind of time out.  Besides, in the process of trying to acknowledge all the good in my life, a journey like this would seem to be insulting for all the people I know who face far great adversity than she or I ever could.

All right.  So she went on a journey to find herself, literally, and did just that.  Good on her.  I appreciated the self-reflection, the insights on quieting the mind, the reflections of our culture that showed me that we really do allow life to suck us along at a dizzying pace.  The message of truth in self, regardless of possessions or relationships is one that is universal and good to return to often.  I recognize that we get caught up in things that are small and lose sight of things greater than ourselves.  In the end, I suppose my resentment came from the fact that I felt looked down on for being "Western" and not having the time or means to take off to travel the world.  I'm not sure that was really her message, so I have to applaud her for laying her own pain out there for all of us to examine.  In her case, she had to take this journey to find herself.  It was the adventure of a lifetime that taught her many wonderful things about the purpose of life.  I think I'm going to have to stay put and find myself in more amenable ways.

Overall, and amazingly (considering my earlier frustration), I did end up liking the book.  Yes, I was terribly annoyed by the weakness and self-indulgence I saw coming from the pages of her story, but by the end I appreciated the lessons she had learned.

Side note on the film:  Surprisingly, I didn't have a moment's thought about Julia Robert's character going on this journey around the world.  In fact, I felt great camaraderie with the screen version of Gilbert, feeling greater sympathy for her situation than I ever had in the book.  I've decided that we've come to expect self-indulgence from a movie character, or at least a more glamorous life than many of us lead.  In that sense, I felt for the seemingly pained and lost character, and was eager to see her happy again.  Besides, it was sunny, bright Julia Roberts.  I think I might have her to thank for pulling me into the movie and maybe getting some of Gilbert's message.

*FTC Disclosure:  This review was based on a personal copy of the novel.

What was your response to the book and the film? 


  1. I haven't seen the movie. Julia Roberts might be the only thing that would make me watch it.. sometime.. on TV.

    As for the book. Self-indulgent? Yes. And I have to admit, I didn't even appreciate the lesson, because in the end it seemed to be so much about not really learning about those philosophies, but the kind of quick: and then I visit India and learn meditation and everything is right in the world-fic. The kind of fix that typically Westerners in their mid-life crises hope to find. A quick fix. It is not about that. I don't know. I was also frustrated by her making a clear division between "the West" and "the East". Ugh. I know there was a lot I found annoying about this book, least of all the writing style. Somehow, I forgot what I found so annoying exactly. But I don't want to reread it just to rediscover that ;)

  2. I felt about the movie the same way you feel about the book, so I probably shouldn't read it! I had a really hard time connecting to Gilbert in the film; she seemed like a psycho. And quite frankly, I'm leery of the Oprahication, overshare culture the movie seemed to promote. It's okay to keep your personal problems to yourself. Really.

  3. Love your response and it was much like I felt.... just a little stronger! :) I loved the writing, but the self-indulgence, yes, it bugs me.

    Haven't seen the movie yet. Soon though, very very soon.

  4. Self-indulgent seems to be the theme here. That's exactly what I felt. I would have liked it better if she was not so whiny and acknowledged that she had things pretty good. I never made it to the Love part of the book. It got thrown against the wall near the end of Pray. I would have liked it better from a different person, I think

  5. I agree with you as well. It really bothered me that after all her talk of finding herself and her independence she falls in love so quickly and gets involved in another relationship. It was tied up all nice and neatly - bow attached. I know this seems a bit harsh, one should never judge another til they have walked in their shoes, but most of us don't get the luxury of her unique opportunity. I think there is a wee bit of jealousy there. I have the movie on my Netflix queue even though I am ambivalent about seeing it.

  6. Hi Becky, new goodreads friend. :) Interesting take on Eat, Pray, Love. (I've never heard of a "response" as opposed to a review). My book club read this a few years ago and I recall loving Italy and enjoying Indonesia, and not liking the India segment as much, although I was impressed that EG could at least hold my interest writing about PRAYER. One book clubber said that to write a memoir you either have to be somebody average who experienced something incredible, or somebody a bit egotistical, and perhaps EG fit the latter category. I haven't seen the movie yet and don't really feel much motivation to do so. Great blog you have here!

  7. I haven't read this one yet and to be honest I've shied away from it because of the varied reviews. I probably won't bother but I do want to see the movie - mostly because Julia Roberts is in it and she's one of my faves.

    I'm glad you ultimately liked the book aside from the journey of emotions it led you on.

  8. I liked both the book and the movie. While I understand the criticism about self-indulgence, that did not dominate my experience of the book. I think it was influenced by the fact that I was traveling at the time I read it (and Bali was one of my destinations) so I enjoyed her self-discoveries along the way. Saying all the however, not sure I would read it again because I am sure I would be annoyed by everything everyone else has been annoyed by!

  9. I like your response!

    I read Eat, Pray, Love over several months - including during some traveling of my own - in 2008. I have yet to write a review, I guess because I have so much "response."

    I really did love the book, and I took a lot away from it to enrich my own life.

    But I do have to say that it'd be great to have a book advance of my own so I could justify spending a whole year doing what I want to do and then writing about it! :)

    P.S. I think I'll see the movie when it's available on Netflix.

  10. Iris--Yes, it did seem awfully quick. Plus, I just kept thinking that it will only make people feel like they can't find answers and peace in their lives without something dramatic like a trip. Just makes it sound more "enlightened" to trip about than to plug forward in life. I have to say, the movie is interesting. I'd love for you to see it and then tell us what you think!

    Heidenkind--LOL. I don't think you would like it either. There seems to feel like this you-don't-know-yourself-because-you're-not-freewheeling theme.

    Suey--It definitely was a hate...with moments of love sort of read. I really want to hear what you think about the movie!

    Bookmagic--That is hilarious! :) I'm glad someone else had serious emotions to her story. The Love section was much more centered than the others (thank goodness), but I 100% agree about the whiny bits. I wonder if she realized how self-absorbed she was going to sound, or if she cared?

    Elisabeth--It does seem very much like "The Secret" to have the love of her life appear in the final lap of her journey. If only it worked that way more often, right? Many of us live lives where we have to constantly push ahead, so we find ways of dealing with life's ups and downs without the luxuries she gets. I agree with you there.

    Jennifer Lane--Thank you so much! I'll have to try your book, by the way. I love that point about memoir. Honestly, I kept wondering how much creative license she took on this crazy journey? Either way, egotistical or self-indulgent definitely seemed to apply. Maybe since we know people exist who are like this, we're just supposed to see how they view the world? I've been thinking a lot about that and considering that maybe that is just how she is?

    Darlene--I would just stick with the film. I like Julia Roberts, so I was able to escape more into a sort of Hollywood sympathy than with the whiny person we encountered in the book. I think you'll like it. I'd love to hear what you think!

    Booksync--How awesome to get to be there and then read about it as well. I have to say that reading about places you've seen and experienced first hand can completely change the reading of a book. I'm sure that influenced you a great deal! Did it make you want to go back there?

    Alison--Thanks. I was hesitant to let my true feelings fly on this one, which is why I couldn't bring myself to call it a review! I'm glad you liked it and could connect it to your own life. If I could have somehow managed to give her more credit, I might have liked it. Like I said, I think I was really just pea green with jealousy!

  11. I didn't feel a full sense of peace that I was hoping for by the end of the movie. It was strangely selfish. Everything about herself, even though she was shown helping others. She was doing it for her own gain, not theirs. I know she was searching for her life, but I just got frustrated. Not one of my fav movies sorry to say. Thanks for the great review Becky.

  12. Laurel--Thanks Laurel! It's reassuring to know that I wasn't alone in feeling frustrated by the story. I'm in good company! Thanks for sharing with me.