I was reading my friend Ana’s blog this morning (gnometrotting.com), and in her latest entry about a recent hellish experience flying to Peru, she mentioned that she finally got around to reading Eat, Pray, Love. And she hates it.
That got me thinking… I hated Eat, Pray, Love too! In fact, I wrote a blog several years ago about how Elizabeth Gilbert’s voice in the book wreaks of white privilege!
So I found that blog that I wrote in 2010 and am reposting it here. Enjoy!
As spiritual memoirs go, I have to say that Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love was not my favorite. On the surface, it shares many similarities with Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott. Both women seem like really cool, hip women that I would love to chat with over a bottle of wine. Both women have very friendly, very readable voices. Both women are honest and self-deprecating as they search for something greater than themselves. But the difference between these two texts is huge. HUGE. And maybe it was merely my perception of the two texts, but Traveling Mercies made me hopeful and uplifted. Eat, Pray, Love had its moments that were sweet and inspiring, but for the most part, I found it insipid and depressing. Far be it from me to judge anyone else’s experience, but there’s something insincere about Gilbert’s text, while Lamott’s text is nothing if not dripping with sincerity. But if it’s wrong to judge experience, than I suppose it’s even more wrong to compare experiences…
I’m not sure what exactly makes Eat, Pray, Love read as an insincere text. The woman appears to be wholly confessional. At one point, she tells us that she has a nasty bladder infection caused by having too much sex with her new Brazilian boyfriend (it’s kinda hard to feel sorry for her). But even the way this very personal problem resolves itself reflects my biggest problem with this book. She is in Bali, and antibiotics are hard to come by, so she takes some herbal remedy given to her by a Balinese healer, saying “We all know how the story ends. In less than two hours, I was fine, totally healed.” Not that I want this woman to suffer, but it seemed to me like everything just seemed to resolve itself. Her nephew couldn’t sleep so she started thinking about him while she meditated in India, and wouldn’t you know it, the child can sleep again!
And for someone who seems to be the director of her own destiny, she takes very little responsibility for her personal choices. At one point– admittedly the most depressing part of the book for me– she is haunted by two familiar acquaintances: Depression and Loneliness. Depression, she says, has this way of confiscating her identity, asking her an endless series of questions that make her forget– or hate– who she is: “He asks if I have any reason to be happy that I know of. He asks why I am all by myself tonight, yet again. […] He asks why I can’t get my act together, and why I’m not at home living in a nice house and raising nice children like any respectable woman my age should be.” But the thing is, Gilbert isn’t doing any of those things because she’s travelling around the world, financed by an advance on the book that she was writing. Before that, she was a New York City journalist, spending much of her time travelling around the world on assignment. She doesn’t have that “respectable” life because she chose not to have it! This isn’t to say that human beings aren’t sometimes complicated, and that it isn’t totally possible that she chose not to have the home and children and then occasionally wonders if she made the right choices, but she seems to make no allowances for the fact that she is a highly successful writer who is writing from a place of privilege.
One thing that strikes me about this scene, only as I’m reflecting on it now, is that I suppose, as depressing as it is, it’s healthy to look at Depression and Loneliness as visitors. They are outside of her. They aren’t a part of who she is. It’s hard to shut them up sometimes (don’t I know it!), but they needn’t define any of us, because they’re outside of us.
Anyway, as I said before, the book does have its enjoyable moments. My favorite parts of the book were in Italy. And my favorite part about Italy was Naples. One of her friends in Rome tells her she must go to a particular pizzeria because it had the best pizza in Naples. “I found this a wildly exciting prospect, given that the best pizza in Italy is from Naples, and the best pizza in the world is from Italy, which means that this pizzeria must offer… I’m almost too superstitious to say it.. the best pizza in the world?” See, she’s adorable when she wants to be. Even better is her description of the pizza: “I love my pizza so much, in fact, that I have come to believe in my delirium that my pizza might actually love me in return.”
So yeah, my quick review of Eat, Pray, Love: It’s alright. It at its best when it’s talking about food in Italy. Her notions of the spiritual world seem a little too simple, but I’m glad things all seem to work out for her.