With more than 10 million copies sold worldwide and a $60 million budget Brad Pitt-produced movie adaptation, I don’t think it’s necessary anymore to present Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir Eat Pray Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything. I saw the movie (by myself one night, as neither of my brothers was remotely interested) and loved it – and immediately wanted to fly off to Bali for a holiday. I knew I would eventually buy the book, but it took me a few months because I absolutely didn’t want the original edition but the pretty one with a picture of Julia Roberts eating gelato on the cover (which none of the bookshops I frequent ever had – or if they did, it was only in German).
Both a travelogue and a spiritual memoir, Eat Pray Love chronicles Gilbert’s travels in Italy, India, and Indonesia, and her passage from post-divorce depression to inner peace and happiness. While overall I enjoyed the book, reading it did require the exercise of suspension of disbelief: Gilbert’s ambition to search for “everything” (and presumably to find it) in a single year awoke the sceptic in me – I couldn’t help raising my eyebrows a bit and thinking “Is that all?!” A single year to put her divorce behind her once and for all, and to find God, herself, and Prince Charming? And all that before the age of thirty-five! I’m not saying it’s not possible, of course, and I’m thrilled for her the plan worked so well, but when my evil twin comes to the fore, the packaging just seems a bit too neat.
That said, Gilbert has a gift for drawing the reader into her quest. This is largely due to her style, which is surprisingly colloquial, including words like “spazzy”, “zing”, and “freak out”. This gives the narrative a lively, spontaneous feel, and makes the reader feel that Gilbert is conversing with him as with a dear friend. It also has the effect of making the spiritual and philosophical side of the book far more accessible to the general public. This is achieved with the aid of a multitude of similes, many of which are funny and apt, but just as many of which are superfluous and have a regrettable tendency to vulgarize the idea put forth. There is nothing subtle about Gilbert’s writing – its virtues reside in its frankness and honesty.
Though, there again, I have a bone to pick with Gilbert. In the second section of the book, devoted to Gilbert’s stay in an Ashram near Mumbai, one of her new friends there accuses her of having “control issues”. I beg to differ. In my opinion, Gilbert has boundary issues. This may just be the result of a culture clash: I’m French, and in France we tend to consider our private lives as… well, private. The idea of baring my heart and soul in the middle of the marketplace for all and sundry to point and comment makes me shudder. But this is not a sentiment Elizabeth Gilbert seems to share. At all. Of course, the whole point of writing a memoir in the first place is to give a personal account of a life-changing experience, but surely there are limits to what a person ought to share? (In my mind, I have a vivid memory of Ross telling Chandler “I said share, not scare!” in the episode of “Friends” entitled “The One with Princess Leia”.) Accounts of profound mystical experiences or of masturbation seem to me rather indecent: the sacred and the sexual are fit to be discussed with close friends, but surely not meant to be invaded by ten million pairs of strangers’ eyes! If the book were a novel, by the time Gilbert meets and falls in love with Felipe, the reader would be expecting a love-making scene. But because this is real life, not fiction, it feels like prostitution.
© Florence Berlioz 2011