by Elizabeth Gilbert, 2006
This is the second time I’ve attempted to read Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir Eat, Pray, Love. The first was at the height of its popularity, when Gilbert appeared on Oprah and everyone fawned over the courage of this woman to travel for a year in search of herself. What I found off-putting was that Gilbert was able to afford this year of self-discovery by selling the idea of this very book to her publishers. What was billed as a sacrifice, was really born of extreme privilege. This is not an option to everyone. It did not speak to me. I did not finish it.
When I saw it while browsing at my library recently, I decided to try again, if only for the cultural knowledge. As I said in my review of Me Before You, I’m always curious when a book gains extreme popularity – or notoriety, as the case may be – and there was still some part of me that wondered what it was about Gilbert’s book that spoke to so many people.
Ultimately, I do not identify with Gilbert’s plight. My life is far from what I dreamed it would be, but I’ve never found myself crying on the bathroom floor, stuck with a husband I don’t love, praying not to get pregnant with children I don’t want. I would consider myself chronically single and I’m okay with that. I’d much rather find myself occasionally lonely than in a string of terrible relationships – and in a terrible marriage – because I can’t bear the thought of being on my own. Of course, society tells us that this is not acceptable for a woman. Men get to be lifelong bachelors, but we women are picky or frigid or in some way defective if we wait to get married until we find someone we – gasp! – actually want to be married to. So, while I understand that this forcing upon of marriage is a very real thing for many women, I’m not one of them and I did not see myself in these pages.
That’s fine. You can’t expect every book to speak to you because every book is written from a different perspective with a different audience in mind. I do think Gilbert is a decent writer and her short chapters – indeed, written as if she were sending off snippets to be chronicled in a magazine – were easy to pass through. Were there any words of wisdom in them? I suppose some will find the idea that you don’t always have to do what society expects of you revolutionary. Some will find inspiration in Gilbert’s efforts to help her Balinese friend buy a house and do something similar, purely for the sake of doing something good. Some will learn the value of silence and the value of corporeal joy and the value of not caring what another plate of pasta will do to the waistline. If that brings you comfort, then who am I to judge what this books means to you?
Alas, to me it was little more than an archive of self-indulgence. I found little to gain from it.