Sunday, January 25, 2009

A love/hate relationship

It would not have been fitting, or an accurate portrayal of my personality, had I not procrastinated penning this post. I had read, and book clubbed, Eat, Pray, Love awhile ago, and had such mixed reactions to the book that I was eager to revisit it. Sadly, the outcome of a second run was quite similar to the first.

I loved this book and I despised this book. I find myself hesitant to recommend it, yet eager to get others input. I felt, as I dove in both times, that I had been taken on a roller coaster ride. One page had me on a highlighting frenzy, in an effort to remember some of the most masterfully crafted quotes, while the next had me shaking my fist at her narcissistic ways.

If we take it from the top, we find her crumbled in a heap on her bathroom floor, reeling from the realization that, because of her hesitation to take the next "logical" step in a marriage, hers was over. Perhaps it was her reluctance to divulge details of her failing marriage, but I felt very little pity for her. I know the entire basis for the book hinges on her unhappiness with her current All-American life. But knowing how blessed she was in so many aspects of her life leads me to question why I should feel sorry for her plight when there are millions struggling through much more drastic circumstances. I am quite aware that makes me heartless, but I had trouble buying into the whole whoa is me scenario. And yet, she has the ability to write in such a manner that almost forces you to keep reading, joining her on a journey you may not even support.

The journey itself often felt contrived. Knowing that each step had been paid for with an advance, banking on the lessons learned from her travels, I often struggled with whether or not her experiences were authentic. Don't get me wrong, I do not question that she was unhappy and therefore took this journey to find herself. I just wonder if she would have arrived at the same destination spiritually, physically and mentally if she was forced to navigate through her hardships like the Average Joe, and not with the security of a book advance paving the way.

Now onto Italy, my favorite section by far. There is something to be said about indulging, and as she literally ate her way through the country, I was not only intrigued but also envious. She lived without the fear of consequence (not even the 23 pounds gained made her pause), and the pleasure achieved because of it is something to be sought after.

In marked contrast, India was by far my least favorite section. Not only did I find the writing itself lacking her usual page turner style, but her experiences troubled me. I am open to all religious views. I may have my own, but I am always curious and eager to learn and explore other religions. So it was not the focus on Eastern religions that gave me pause, but rather her insistence on forcing the experience on herself, regardless of the price. This was a section that I felt was less of a personal struggle and more of an experience to have that would eventually find its way to her pages.

Although it differs from mine, I had no problem with her definition of God or even her desire to find her spirituality. And I do not think that being religious is always easy or effortless, but I do not feel it should be a struggle of that magnitude. It seemed almost counterproductive to me and I had to set the book down for a few days to get through it.

And I guess, in the same way Gilbert was attempting to strike a balance between the "Eat" and the "Pray" discovered in the first 2 sections, I felt equal part love and equal part hate for the last section. I loved her character descriptions and the relationships built in Bali, but I felt the relationship with Felipe went against all she had been preaching throughout the book. And to know she went on to marry him further cemented that hypocrisy.

With that said, I feel Gilbert is a gifted story teller. She weaves her encounters into the book in such a way that I felt connected to the people she met and befriended, and wanted to know what became of them. And overall, I felt it was more her obviously brilliant writing ability and less her self-discovery and insight, that led me to enjoy this book. But it is probably not a book I will read again, because I do not believe it will uphold the 3rd-times-a-charm theory.


  1. Amber;

    Like you, the India section was my least favorite part of the book and I too had to put it down for several days, even considered not finishing it at all. However, I am glad I did pick it back up because there were several passages in the Love section from Bali that I appreciated a lot.

    There are sentences, whole paragraphs throughout the book that I found absolutely delightful. Gilbert IS a gifted writer, no doubt. However, I'm with you on not being terribly sympathetic about her plight in the beginning. I do NOT think that makes you (or me) heartless.

    I imagine there was a whole lot more going on in that relationship (her marriage) than she divulged. While I respect her decision to keep those things private, it did make some of her sorrow over wanting out seem pretty self serving. When I compare some of the details of how she described her relationship with David and her relationship with Felipe I find a woman who will only feel fulfilled if she can be the center of attention and cannot stand to have a lover look in any other direction. For all her claims of independance,that felt sorta creepy to me.

    I doubt very seriously I'd read this a second time, but I am glad I read it once. It dragged in spots and some was more than a little contrived. Still, there were enough gems to make it worth while. I'm still trying to learn to smile in my liver.

  2. Oh man, I wish I could discuss this with you in person! I had some of those same thoughts, and was surprised at how much I liked her and how easily I forgot my disdain. All I can chalk it up to is her ability to write. I enjoyed her style.

    I thought "love" was a bit of a misguided name for her last section. Perhaps "sex" or "desperation" would have been more accurate. I know, I know, it was because she found love for that medicine lady and love for herself, but that took such a backseat to her love affair, that I wasn't impressed. Like Belladonna said, I was sorts creeped out by the end of the book. That said, I want to read her next book and find out how they ended up married and living in America.

    I liked India. I was intrigued by it, and excited to learn about the Yogic culture (is it a culture?). It was more of a history lesson for me than anything, and I love history. But I think you are right that it was a bit forced. I DO want desperately to learn how to meditate now. Even more than I did before reading this book. If only my children would stay out of my room and perfectly silent for three hour intervals...

  3. Well put Amber!

    I agree with the lack of pity you had for her when she was in a heap on the bathroom floor. I wanted to tell her to suck it up and make the marriage work.

    I agree, I love to learn about other religions (especially Far East religions) but I also struggled with her spiritual quest because I have such a strong belief in God. I know with every fiber in my being that Jesus died on the cross for my sins in order for me to be saved. It really saddens me when people try to find other religions to fill the holes in their life.

    A very well written book that did make me envy her life of freedom. It’s true – would she have been able to come to the same conclusion if she didn’t know that she was to write a book about finding herself?

  4. I hope this doesn't make me sound terribly arrogant, because I'm really not - but in India I wanted to tell her about the Eastern Christian tradition, because I think that she doesn't have any experience with it, and because I think it would resonate, not because I'm Orthodox and think everyone else should be.

    I laughed out loud Andrea about your renaming the last part. The thing I remember most clearly from it, and was a funny scene is when she gets the UTI. It's both hysterically funny and painful as I've been through them myself.