on March 31, 2008
I find it so surprising--reading the angry, negative reviews--that the people who hated the book hated it for exactly the reasons why some steer clear away from the the spiritual-journey-memoir genre. Yes, the author is self-absorbed, yes, she seems to think of only trite stuff, yes, she seems self-indulgent with her problems. And yes, she's allowed. It is after all a book that is positioned to address these things in the author's self; who otherwise would not be searching for something more: more meaning and more appreciation in/of her life.
Here is a woman who shows all the possibly-perceived-as-lacking-substance thoughts of hers and we are throwing tomatoes at her. One thing, she obviously wasn't afraid of that. She wasn't aiming to be coming off as some deeply wise woman but a fumbling girl-woman trying to break out of what she felt was imminent disaster (had she had the baby and delayed her need to find out what she truly wants from her life she might have left not only her husband, but their child, or most probably ending up not leaving out of guilt and becoming crazy instead: exposing her family to that for years; not an uncommon reality). She is not one for anti-depressants, remember.
This memoir falls in the same category as the TV show Sex and the City (of which it was compared to in a review here). Both get trampled for being supposedly superficial, covering the silly plights of city girls who don't know what they want and yet have everything. But this book--as the TV show--actually are part of a wider story that is illiciting reactions from the public because it reflects the transition in which women in the modern world are experiencing: now that we have equality with men professionally, now that we are liberated from all the limitations being a woman dictated two generations ago, how does that affect us? From a distance, in a glance, it seems that women have all the cards to play with now. But this book and many other works by women and/or about women of this generation show that having all those cards does not mean Happiness.
There are still things in society--in regards to a woman's role--that grates. And then there are things within our Modernised, Westernized, Individualized, Ambitious selves, that are lacking.
This is what Miss Gilbert's search is about, and what she represents.
On a collective level, much of the modern world is in search of God, Spirituality (one just needs to walk through bookstores in the US and see the plethora of soul searching self help books on the shelves). This is what needs to be observed and understood as a phenomena in the West; the small voices, small cries, here and there by those who come up with the balls to share their journeys and thoughts with us--no matter how trite-sounding, how shallow-seeming--are part of a collective howl for the meaning of life.
Elizabeth Gilbert's voice is just one of many that calls for recognition as part of a chorus for something that firstly, many women are hollering about, and secondly, humanity in general--humanity in the first world--are crying for: some kind of guidance, indication, that the collective paths we fought for and chose (the best education, career ambitions realised, a certain amount of money needed to live that certain kind of magazine-lifestyle life--which is what Liz Gilbert's life is a reflection of, remember--love in the form of marriage and what society dictates) are truly the things that give us peace and happiness in the infinite sense.
Eat, Pray, Love might not be that deep, wise voice representing the deep, wise journey into the deep, wise self. But this book's packaging and tone, hell, its WORDS, never did say it was. It is a fumbling--almost child-like in its guilelessness--show of the ego's awareness and needs, and its attempt at searching for what many people from all walks of life only wish they could go out and find: THEMSELVES. SELF, being the keyword here. And in this memoir, ultimately, God, being in each of our selves.
To the people who were disappointed that the author didn't seem to give a hoot about India's poverty, they must have not read the book through: Miss Gilbert never ventured out of her ashram and the little village it is located in, after making a decision to further develop her meditation skills and thus skipping the rest of India. She also ignored Italy's corruption with her indulging in good food and focus on learning and enjoying the Italian language. Again, the critics missed the point of this memoir. It's a book about a writer, a New Yorker, a recently-divorced-woman-in-her-early-thirties' journey to heal and find spiritual strength through various means: pleasure first to recover (Italy), spiritual examination and purging (India), combining the two for balance (Bali), which would result hopefully in the kind of substance and depth and balance that so many critics mentioned she lacks.
One doesn't pick this book up to: 1. Be exposed to India's poverty and expect the author to discuss that in depth. 2. Be exposed to Italy's corruption and expect the author to discuss that in depth. 3. Be exposed to Balinese wiles and expect the author to discuss that in depth. (which she actually did in the account of the Balinese woman she raised money for to buy the land the woman needed to build a home).
Next time you pick a book up at the bookstore, call up your powers of perception before purchasing it. A book IS pretty much its cover. Did everyone really expect a book titled "Eat, Pray, Love" A Woman's Search for Everything, to be an experience of religious fervor, one that would reveal the secrets of the universe? It's a story about a girl who thought everything she thought she wanted, would bring her happiness. It didn't. It didn't for her, and possibly not for many other women. If it took this one woman to go to Italy, India, and Indonesia, to get away after a difficult and painful divorce to heal and get perspective--instead of festering and turning into a pile of flesh in depression--then by all means. Yes, she financed her travels through her book advance--after giving away the suburban home and NYC apartment to her ex-husband. And if she wrote this book for us, it's really for us to appreciate and enjoy the ride with her. Anybody else who got so upset needed only to put the book down and pick another one to their taste. If anything, that's this book's lesson: Do what makes you smile and thankful for life.
on September 26, 2007
'Eat, Pray, Love...' was a book I liked and disliked at the same time. On the one hand, it was fresh, witty and fun, and on the other hand it would devolve into obsessive ruminations about Liz Gilbert's failed marriage, her attempt to find God and her sadness and perceived "misery". It was at once clever and boring, hot and cold, cathartic and self-indulgent. It's not a horrible read (closer to 3-1/2 starts), it's just that over the course of the book, the incessant whining takes its toll.
The book begins with Liz Gilbert questioning her marriage. She ultimately leaves her husband, finds a boyfriend, gets rid of him too and thus starts the quest for God and the meaning of "her" life. She does this by eating her way through Italy, praying and meditating in India, and hanging out and making whoopee in Bali. Initially I loved her insight and wit. I found myself actually laughing out loud at her intuitive commentary; but then I found myself getting bored (and frankly irritated) at her droning on and on about being so sad and devastated, and the pain she was in, and the heartache, and sorrow and misery, ad nauseam. I was waiting for her to describe something truly miserable, heart-breaking or tragic that had happened in her life, but all I found was a woman who went through a couple of failed relationships and acts like she's the only one in the world who's been through it. I kept thinking, good grief, get over yourself girl! I mean, really, the majority of women who go through divorces (or worse) pick themselves up and move on without self-indulgent self-reflection for a week, nonetheless a whole year! Most of the women I know have no time for self-pity, and Liz Gilbert was "The Queen" of self-pity (at least in this book). It started out funny, witty and insightful in Italy, crescendoing to a full-bore whine in India, and ending with her usual self-absorbed persona in Bali. She goes through life as a Drama Queen, and she seems to see every misstep or unpleasant experience as totally devastating. I think a person who grew up in an intact, two-parent home, married once to a husband who loved and provided for her (and who has been able to promptly find replacements for him), in addition to always seeming to be able to get what she needs when she needs it, whether it's food, travel, love, or money, is not someone who needs to be writing a book about her perceived sorrow and misery. She needs to give many, many thanks, stop obsessing, and MOVE ON!
on February 16, 2008
Here is a book that either changed people's lives or irritated the bejesus out of them. Count me among the latter.
Eat Pray Love - One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert was supposed to enlighten me. It didn't.
OK -- First the positive: Overall, it is a well-written book. The author takes many complicated metaphysical concepts and makes them readable. The book is divided into sections: Eat, which is the author's journey to Italy; Pray, her pilgrimage to India and Love, where she takes a lover in Bali.
This is about a thirty-something woman looking for spirituality and happiness. She is married, but desperately unhappy for no single reason that she cannot or will not divulge. So, she leaves her husband (and, by the way, gives him all marital property out of supposed "guilt" for leaving him, making me wonder what exactly she did to warrant this)and falls right into another relationship (a-ha! adultery, perhaps?). When the rebound relationship that broke up her marriage falls apart, she now wants to find God. Of course. She claims God spoke to her on the bathroom floor, thus beginning her journey.
But not before she goes to her publisher and secures a $200,000 advance for this book. Makes you wonder, as one reviewer on Amazon pointed out, was the journey retrofitted to the book proposal?
What better way to go find God than in Italy. For four months she eats gelato, practices her Italian with a young man named Luca Spaghetti (If you are going to make up names of allegedly real people, could you find a more sterotypical name? Why not Carmine OrganGrinder?) and gains 23 pounds -- quick to point out to the readers that she was way underweight to beign with.
She learns to enjoy life and be selfish from the Italians - who by the way still find her immensely attractive, although they don't hoot and holler at her like they did 10 years previously. But she is still so damned cute. Just ask her.
On to India. At the Ashram, she learns to meditate and still broods over her lost marriage and subsequent realtionship. Probably the most boring part of the book, except for her conversations with "Richard from Texas" -- a down home, larger than life character who speaks in folksy platitudes that would make Andy Griffith proud. He also bestows our author with her nickname "Groceries" because she was emaciated from grief from crying for the millionth time over her beloved David. As one reviewer from Amazon said, "What kind of nickname is Groceries?"
I honestly believe she made these people up. Reminds me of "Go Ask Alice" -- supposedly the real story of the drug-addicted Anonymous -- until it was revealed that the protagonist was a fictitious composite of the author's psychiatric patients. Boo.
Then Bali. She ends her self-imposed celibacy with an older Brazilian man. High on orgasmic ecstasy, out of the supposed goodness of her heart, she asks her friends to send $18K in donations to help a single mother, an alleged friend of Ms. Gilbert's, who is portrayed as a con artist because she didn't buy a house in the timeframe coinciding with the termination of Ms. Gilbert's visa. I always thought that a gift should be a gift without strings attached -- especially coming from someone who supposedly found God. I wanted to ask Ms. Gilbert "What Would Jesus Do?"
My biggest problem with this tome is that this 30-something woman basically is looking for applause for running off for a year, obstensibly supported by a $200K book advance, to "find God." I'm sure millions of women would love to leave their everyday lives and travel the world to do nothing but self analyze. If she had done volunteer work, I may have felt differently. If she went through some real hardship, I could sympathize. But she was in an incompatible marriage, then dumped by the guy she left her husband for. She should perhaps speak to those battling life-threatening diseases, or raising children alone, or taking care of an elderly parent, or worried about where their next meal is coming from.
And for all of her self-realization and navel-gazing to end her dependence on men, Ms Gilbert has, as pointed out by anotherAmazon reviewer, married her Brazilian and moved to new Jersey. She could have saved Penguin Books a whole lot of money by getting in her car and going through the Lincoln Tunnel. I wonder how long before she ends up back on the bathroom floor.
on April 14, 2007
I've read several of the reviews posted here and though I couldn't finish this book, it seems to me that what's wrong with it is not so much the author's hollow-souled narcissism but her lack of intellectual seriousness. Someone gave me this book as a birthday present. That it has received a lot of attention is no surprise. Look at the drivel America reads. Light, shallow laughs, sex, food, not much real thought. That's the sum of this book. Feel-good rubbish that inspires not one iota of serious thought. Gilbert's slapphappy universe is one in which everything can be solved with pizza and fresh mozarella. Every paragraph contains at least one stock one-liner. This isn't literature. It's stand-up comedy of the worst kind. We've read it all before. She claims she can make friends with anyone. It's precisely that lack of discernment and depth that makes this story forgettable. The prose is laced with one cliche, one trite and cutesy obvservation after another. Some reviewer here said this book is not a book but a magazine article. Exactly right. I finally closed the book when I read that while in India she wanted to "valet park" a destitue family into a new life. It isn't just that the phrase is a silly toss-off modernism but that there's no true emotion in it. You'll never know how this woman really feels. Don't waste your money on it.
on May 14, 2007
I picked up this book on the strength of good reviews and found myself wanting to throw it at the wall. The author is a fine writer with a good sense of humor who seemed to want to write about her journey to self fullfilment, spiritual awakening and happiness. Instead she came off as a priviledged, slightly spoiled writer who needed an excuse for a writers advance so she could travel for free. She reveals herself to be a spiritual narcissist who obsessively navel gazes. While many passages are light hearted and funny and she is oh, so very clever and witty!! there was no real depth, no real meaningful questions asked or answered except for how she could get more breaks and be FULFILLED. It seemed like an extended article for SELF magazine. Instead order books by Kathleen Norris or even Anne LaMott for God's sake!
on October 28, 2009
Elizabeth Gilbert was a self-absorbed, married, thirty-something living the privileged existence of an affluent writer in the most powerful nation on Earth, when, suddenly - shock-horror - she realized that she wasn't happy. As a consequence, she cast aside her husband, took up with another man - with whom she still wasn't happy - and, after this relationship fell into inevitable dissolution, decided to run off around the world in order to "find herself" (one must assume that she'd already looked down the back of the sofa) after receiving a handsome advance from a publishing company to chronicle her subsequent exploits.
"Eat, Pray, Love" is pseudo-intellectual, altruistic, mother-my-dog pap of the worst kind masquerading as spiritual insight. Read between the lines and it expounds selfishness as a virtue and mindless hedonism as both philosophy and legitimate path to spiritual insight. Unsurprisingly, that great doyen of the gullible, Oprah Winfrey, loved it and made it one of her book club choices, thus unleashing it to a wider audience than Gilbert's talents as a writer would normally have ever allowed. Apparently, God help us, a big-screen version with Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts is currently in the offing.
As a literary construct, Gilbert herself seems to be the contemporary living embodiment of Tom and Daisy Buchanan from "The Great Gatsby", of whom F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, "They were careless people...they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness...and let other people clean up the mess they had made."
"Self-absorbed" does not begin to cover it; "self-centred" is not nearly an adequate description. One hopes that she can't really have been so completely inured to the poverty of India and Indonesia by her solipsism. If so, then she seems to be genuinely emblematic of a subset of the "sex and the city" generation of women who put their own self-gratification above all other things. Worryingly, this attitude seems to be becoming increasingly more prevalent in western society.
I will be honest, I first happened upon this book after briefly seeing some of Winfrey's interview with Gilbert on television and consequently read three quarters of the book in my local library - and was so completely incensed that I felt it my civic duty to warn you off of this book.
If you want a genuinely enjoyable book to provoke introspection, this isn't it, but may I politely suggest Tom Hodgkinson's How to Be Idle: A Loafer's Manifesto and The Freedom Manifesto: How to Free Yourself from Anxiety, Fear, Mortgages, Money, Guilt, Debt, Government, Boredom, Supermarkets, Bills, Melancholy, Pain, Depression, Work, and Waste or Lin Yutang's The Importance Of Living in it's stead; If you want a decent travelogue, may I politely suggest any Bruce Chatwin's books, and if you really want to read a writer with talent give the exponents of the Gilbertian philosophy of self-aggrandisement both barrels, then I strongly recommend Michael Bywater's Big Babies: or: Why Can't We Just Grow Up?
on October 24, 2007
I could not finish this book. When the author burst into sobs yet again in the middle of prayer, or a conversation, or walking down the street, or (more likely) on the floor of yet another bathroom, I gave up. This is the type of person you meet at a cocktail party and RUN in the other direction after a few minutes when she starts spewing out all her problems at you with no end in sight. Note to the author: I am your reader, not your psychotherapist. I really tried to enjoy the book and even like the author, but after slogging through a couple hundred pages of endlessly self-absorbed chatter, I was worn out and put the book in the Goodwill pile. When she writes, "I discovered my mind was not a very interesting place to be," I have to say, "Amen, sister!"
on March 10, 2008
Oh, Dear! The New York Times Book Review says, "If a more likable writer than Gilbert is currently in print, I haven't found him or her..." There must be something wrong with me, then.
There is much I admire, certainly: her humor, energy, and fearlessness. She's a wonderful writer. But I'm afraid she's also spoiled and shallow. Why the personal attack? Because she laid out her personal life for profit, so sure she was that we would love her: "There, don't you find me as fascinating as I do?", and her purported wisdom was hyped to such a degree that book clubs all over the country were duped into selecting it. Yes I'm irritated.
Because I assumed Gilbert was a grownup, or I'd never have read this thing.
Poor Richard, the husband she dumps because she "didn't want to be married anymore." She loftily says she will not expose his "issues," but subtly emasculates him in print anyway. She is a cliché, only the genders are reversed. More often we hear it's the man who grows restive; finds an attractive package who "understands" him (in Gilbert's case it was a handsome actor and skilled womanizer named David); dumps spouse but not before the safety net of the new relationship is in place (Gilbert mentions somewhere that she never went five minutes since puberty without a boyfriend); is incredulous that the rejected spouse makes it difficult for him to leave. One thing I will say for her. She didn't have a baby.
But David, as Richard before him, is wrung out by her neediness. I thought he sounded relieved when it was over. In Italy, the dreamy Giovanni, ten years younger, is improbably wise and nurturing. He seems older than she, she explains, and right out of the gate, on the first page, she is wishing he would kiss her. Good Lord, this is embarrassing. Meanwhile her conversations with God are flip and self-regarding, she seems to notice nothing of the poverty and suffering she must have been exposed to, never for a moment steps outside herself and knows, really empathizes with anybody--for all her new friends, she sees them as supporting actors in a play starring herself. Predictably, she is in the middle of a heavy affair before the end of the book. That she marries and hauls this guy back to New Jersey of all places is just funny.
The first year after it was published, hardly anybody had anything bad to say about this book. I think that's because people who sensed it was not their sort of book didn't read it. Then Oprah-fication in the fall of 2007 resulted in a great many people's reading it for book club, because they were persuaded by friends, etc. Or the hype finally got to them and they thought, Maybe it's good and I should read it. I feel like a bear who was poked awake in February with a leg of lamb and got a cold bean burrito instead. It's some comfort that I'm not the only one. Lately as many people hated this book as liked it.
If all you expect is a breezy good read, then Eat Pray Love won't disappoint. If you expect wisdom, then spare yourself the aggravation!
on May 10, 2007
After reading and enjoying the book, I went on line to see what others thought about it. I am so surprised by the extremes on both ends. I just thought it was a mostly enjoyable read. I thought India got tiresome, like she ran out of real material and had to stretch to get her three equal parts concept.
I'm sorry to be negative, but cannot believe that anyone who reads much would find it to be "the best book" they ever read. People who find it life-changing and enlightening,too, must not have spent much time on thinking in depth on spirituality.
By the same token, folks who gave it a one-star with scathing criticism-what were you expecting. No, it's not great literature, nor is it very intellectual. Just a fun little romp. Does every book have to be so much more?
on January 24, 2008
If you must read this book, borrow it from a friend who was suckered into buying it.
I understand that autobiographies can be, by their nature, self-centered and navel-gazing, but Elizabeth Gilbert is one of the most self-important, obtuse, boorish, annoying cretins ever to put pen to paper. What makes her book even worse than it would otherwise be is that there are actually six or seven well-written, absorbing, evocative and touching chapters in it. These chapters suggest that Ms. Gilbert could have produced a readable work not mired in the cutesy, pedantic, narcissistic and often grotesque nonsense from which the rest of it suffers.
Like some other reviewers, I found Ms. Gilbert stunningly unempathetic and uninvolved in the world around her, no matter where she was under what circumstances, and I too thought that her ex-husband is well rid of her. She has, by the way, since the book's publication, married her Brazilian lover and moved with him to New Jersey, so for all her exploration, she is pretty much, like the song says, back where she started.
Do yourself a favor: give this one a miss.