GILBERT, ELIZABETH. Eat, Pray, Love. New York: Penguin Books, 2007. ISBN: 978-0-14-303841-2. Pp. 334. $15.00.
I've always been suspicious of Elizabeth Gilbert's runaway bestseller, Eat, Pray, Love. Having previously worked at a bookstore for three years, from 2006 to 2009, her book was the only one I sold two or three copies of every single day. And I never once sold it to a man. Needless to say, no one who worked at the bookstore read it, myself included. Until now.
As every woman in America already knows, Eat, Pray, Love involves the year following a hard divorce during which Gilbert travels to Italy, India, and Indonesia, looking for happiness and balance (and love) along the way. She gets it all, and not to anyone's surprise. The whole year is set up to be entirely satisfying, even if her previous misery is still trailing behind her when she first arrives in Italy, where the author replaces antidepressants with gelato and self-satisfaction quickly follows.
Gilbert is obviously an extremely likable writer and person (as she says herself, she can make friends with anyone and everyone). She is also a very privileged person, which I think she appreciates to some extent, but can still unashamedly describe a lone shopping spree she indulged in in Rome, during which she spent a small fortune on lingerie. It can be nice to read about another person's wealth--financial, that is--but it can also be kind of boring. Especially if you're poor.
The book's style is itself quite chatty and warm, which is what makes the book so pleasurable to read. Gilbert also has a sharp sense of humor (describing her affectionate personality as a split between a golden retriever and a barnacle), although frequently her attempts at cleverness not only fall flat, but go on for pages and pages before she finally gives the joke up. Fortunately, the most dreadful of these instances occurs early on in the book, in a passage in which Gilbert personifies Depression and Loneliness, who pay her a visit ten days into her stay in Rome: "Then they frisk me. They empty my pockets of any joy I had been carrying there. Depression even confiscates my identity; but he always does that. Then Loneliness starts interrogating me, which I dread because it always goes on for hours". This goes on for a page and a half.
Despite this moment of weakness, the Italy chapter is probably the most interesting in the book, I think because these are the four months Gilbert spends in exclusive pursuit of pleasure. Of course she finds pleasure of a different sort in Bali (his name is Felipe and he's Brazilian), but by the end of the book, I still wasn't sure what the moral of the story was. Perhaps something about meditation and finding God? Personally, I think it had something to do with having a lot of money and time to burn. Without either, this book would never have been written.