Home > Books, Other People's Stuff, Something Like a Review > Something like a Review – Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

Something like a Review – Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

I’m not a fan of non-fiction; my life is real enough, and jumping into the trials and tribulations of another person just isn’t much of an escape from my own. Most of the time, I prefer my stories to include some kind of monster or paranormal entity harassing the characters…or at the very least, there needs to be Something Big and Scary to run away from and make me shudder when I shut out the lights. It bears keeping this in mind when reading this “something like a review.”

Books that make it big with the general public intrigue me. Really, they should because I’d love nothing more than to have my name on the cover of one of them. Whether or not these books cover topics relevant to my interests, I generally grab them in my local bookstore, along with a cup of coffee and sit down to read for a few pages to see if the book hooks my interest in a positive or negative way. Sometimes, after the first few pages, I’m sucked in enough to whip out the wallet again, contribute to the cultural phenomenon and take it home with me.

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert started that way with me.

Imagine a night perusing the stacks of the local bookstore, a little bored, a little lonely and just….seeking. I idly flip through the first few pages of the book before picking it  up off the “Buy X, get X free” table and something in the text catches my eye. I can’t remember now exactly what it was, but it was enough to make me pick it up, wander over to one of the few squishy chairs in the place, plop down and start reading.

The book begins with Gilbert’s trip to Italy and the things that led up to her decision to go on this grand adventure. “Thirty-six Tales about the Pursuit of Pleasure,” the title page of the section proclaims. Less than five pages in, I found the hook only to discover it was a particularly painful one. I recognized my own life in the second tale. I think I bought the book because I was sniffling and struggling against tears and I didn’t want to humiliate myself by sobbing in the middle of the bookstore.

For the majority of the first part, the Italy portion of Gilbert’s journey, I was quite happily swept away. I could identify with her, I understood her motivations, and honestly, I wanted the brass balls to just walk out on everything and take a whirlwind journey around the world just like her.

Then something subtle changed during her time in Italy. I can’t figure out exactly where it happened, or why, but like travel with someone, if you spend enough time in a foreign country living out of suitcases and reliant on the person as your only source of human entertainment in your native tongue, the mold of animosity will start to grow. The whining started, and never stopped.

In all travel stories, one expects a certain level of whining, whether it’s about the paroxysm of fear when faced with nothing but unidentifiable foods you can’t translate, the Gordian knot of cultural differences, the inconveniences of modern air travel, the complex navigation of public transit, exchange rates, language barriers, homesickness or being sick in general. That’s part of the trip, and also why some people prefer the vicarious experience over the real thing.

The thing is, most people get over the whining and move on. I can’t say that Gilbert did.

Maybe it’s because my experiences in Italy were amazing and I would give just about anything to be able to take off and immerse myself back in that culture or maybe I was jealous and longed to re-experience the things she was talking about, but either way, Gilbert’s whining prickled me towards the end of Italy and rankled me in India, the second part of the book and her journey. She spend this part of the journey at an ashram learning to meditate and to find peace within herself. Her presentation of herself in the novel lends the reader to envision an uptight, somewhat neurotic in the midst of several simultaneous emotional crises. In India, the whining reached a fever pitch and I ended up rolling my eyes a lot.

When one envisions a trip to India, opulence and luxury are two things that don’t really make the top of the list. Maybe with unlimited resources, or when hitting the big cities, but even so, they can only be found commingling with their direct opposition. Step back even further and envision an ashram in India. Maybe it’s me, but I envision something rather ascetic and structured, an expectation to live within narrow parameters to reap the most benefit from the time there, and I don’t imagine that “modern comfort” is something built in to the experience when searching for the divine. To be honest, I lost interest in the book at this point, but I was hoping that the final part of the book would show the results of these growing pains, so I kept plugging.

Bali, the third part of the book and the final part of Gilbert’s journey, was a disappointment. The description of the world she was in almost made it worth it, but I had lost the original connection to the story and Gilbert. In this leg of her journey, the neuroses returned and I spent a lot more time rolling my eyes. Reading the third part, there seemed to be this sense of resistance to change. Gilbert seemed to sense the changes that were taking place within her and then rebelled against them. It was frustrating to sense the potential for growth, and the way she sidestepped it and danced around it. While it had an ending, the story didn’t feel like it reached a satisfying conclusion.

On the whole, the story began well, and if one can overlook Gilbert’s existential angst and whining, the look into parts of the world few of us will ever experience is worth it. She does a great job describing the worlds she walked through, and her internal/emotional world was the most frustrating one to navigate and diminished my enjoyment of the story. While I didn’t love the story, it’s worth a read-through to get a perspective on places that aren’t frequently highlighted in stories (India and Bali), to sample a different story-telling voice and to see how not to evolve a character through their resistance to change. I wouldn’t recommend investing in the book, either digitally or in print, but I would recommend borrowing it from the library or from a friend who has already purchased it.

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