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.
*FTC Disclosure: This review was based on a personal copy of the novel.
What was your response to the book and the film?