5 reasons why Eat Pray Love will disappoint you
Perhaps my expectations for Eat Pray Love were too high, but when I finished reading the book, I was left unexpectedly disappointed. Unexpected, because from everything I’ve heard and the reviews I’ve read (even the testimonials printed on my copy of the book), I was expecting this book to make me say “wow”. To pause, and sit for a few minutes after I finished it, not being able to get it out of my head. As the tile of this post suggests, Eat Pray Love did not meet even my lowest expectations.
Before I start, let me just make clear that this review is related only to the book - I haven’t watched the movie and I’m not sure if I will (someone tell me if I should!). Also, this review does contain spoilers - you have been warned!
Overall I think Eat Pray Love had the potential to be a profound, raw and intense emotional journey of a woman healing her soul and repairing her life after the heartache and devastation of a failed marriage and painful divorce. That is, at least what I had expected to be reading. Combining this emotional journey with a travel memoir, you’d imagine it would become a groundbreaking, wildly popular memoir shared amongst friends and sisters, discussed in book clubs and cherished for years.
Indeed, it is, but I cannot understand why. While it starts off strong in the first few chapters, it almost seems as though Elizabeth Gilbert has a change of heart and decides she doesn’t want to write a personal memoir anymore. She starts holding back. To me, at least, this is very obvious. It reads more like a second draft, which is half baked and needs some more time in the oven before it can be devoured by women the world over. I absolutely believe that everyone is entitled to keep their emotions in their pockets and choose if they want to share them. You’re allowed to hold your emotions back - but if that’s what you want, don’t publish a memoir.
A fully funded journey
It doesn’t seem like such a big deal, let alone an amazing journey, to leave your old life behind and search for anything when someone else is footing the bill. This is something I didn’t know about Eat Pray Love until I started reading. The story starts off with Elizabeth discussing her painful divorce and her following rebound relationship which then leads her to uproot herself for 9 months to travel to Italy, India and Indonesia to search for “everything”. Credit must be given to Elizabeth Gilbert for openly stating in her book that she was paid an advance by her publisher to embark on this journey for the purposes of actually writing Eat Pray Love. But therein lies the problem. How can you claim that this is some profound journey to repair your soul and your life if your journey is funded by a third party for the purposes of your next bestseller? It would be a meaningful event if the advance helped you out of poverty or to make ends meet, but if you’ve lived a privileged and abundant life up until that point (which her story suggests she does), it just seems like rich people problems. It seems less like a deep, soulful, emotional journey and more of an extended, all expenses paid business trip - or even worse, a publicity stunt.
Surely, there is more pleasure to be had in Italy than that?
Elizabeth starts her journey in Italy. This section of the book is about finding pleasure. At first this totally resonated with me. At the moment, my husband and I are planning a short trip to Italy with one of our couple friends and we’re all very excited. I’m expecting to indulge in the best pasta and pizza and gelato and desserts, soak up the remnants of an ancient civilisation, and just enjoy pretending to live an Italian life for a week. I do believe that Elizabeth probably experienced pleasure while she was in Italy, even though she initially went there only to learn Italian - a language which she seems to truly love. However, apart from mentioning her favourite Italian words and stating that she gained some weight from all the good food, it does not come across as a great experience of immense life changing pleasure. It just seems like regular, every now and then pleasure. To me, this was a missed opportunity in terms of the way this section was written. A lot of it seemed like she was telling us what happened and not focusing on how it made her feel - at least, I wasn’t able to pick up on it. That’s the difference between a story and a journey - a story tells you what happened; a journey or a memoir recounts the emotional response and life changing impact of what happened.
Large portions were unappealing and boring
I will preface this by pointing out that this might just be something I experienced, and might not be a widespread reaction. I’m not a spiritual or meditative person. Meditation to me, is the peaceful feeling of peeling stickers and concentrating on nothing else but sticking them down straight. That clears my mind and calms me down. That’s meditation to me - that’s why I love stationery and stickers enough to open my own stationery business! Perhaps this is why a good third of the book was useless to me. After Italy, Elizabeth goes to India where she stays in an Ashram and learns to hone her skills of meditation and improve her spirituality. None of this resonated with me. In fact, I didn’t understand it. I even considered skipping these parts of the book but I wanted to keep going to see if it would get better. I know daily meditations have been helpful for a lot of people, and if this were the story that was told, it might have felt a bit more familiar. But sitting for hours and hours on end to mediate just doesn’t.
Elizabeth Gilbert is holding back her emotions
I will be the first person to admit that to bare your soul and all your deepest emotions about some of the darkest and most painful moments of your life is no easy feat. I do applaud Elizabeth Gilbert for opening up in her book about the anguish she felt over her lack of desire to have children. In our society, this is a tough thing for any woman to admit and I respect her for being open about it. But that’s where it stops. Her story starts off strong with these raw emotions but then it almost seems like emotion is taken out of it, or at least, she’s holding a lot of it back. No one is forced to reveal all their emotions, of course. If she had never decided to write this book, then she keeps her emotions to herself and it’s completely fine and totally acceptable. But if you’re sharing your profound journey, there has to be emotion in it and, unfortunately, I felt that this was lacking quite a bit in this book. It felt like she wasn’t really invested in sharing her actual journey and how it changed her or that she was trying too hard to lighten the mood. I don’t blame her for this, because, I do acknowledge how hard it can be to share your innermost feelings. But if it’s that hard - don’t try to write a book about it and only get halfway there.
Falling in love after major heartache is not a big deal
Falling in love in any situation is a big deal. Falling in love after a painful divorce and a messy rebound relationship is an even bigger deal. But it didn’t seem to be in Eat Pray Love. After India, Elizabeth goes to Indonesia to learn balance. I personally, have no idea where the balance part comes into play - it would seem more like she’s learning how to open herself to romance again, not balance, but that’s besides the point. Elizabeth describes her friendship with Felipe who then becomes her Brazilian lover and it seems she then develops deep emotions for him. At least I think she does, as the end of the book shows that she does keep some kind of relationship with him after she returns to the USA. If she did, the story doesn’t show it. She does express her thoughts and emotions about the idea of breaking her vow of celibacy while on her journey and the idea of “taking a lover”, but if she does fall in love with him, it doesn’t show in her writing. If she doesn’t fall in love with him, it doesn’t show in her writing. Once again it felt like Elizabeth was holding back on us.
Eat Pray Love made it onto my to-read list the moment I found out it was a popular memoir about a woman travelling to different places in the world on her journey to search for “everything” - as vague as that is (what does that even mean?). Especially since I recently took a risk in my own life and moved my life across the Earth, I thought now was the perfect time to read this book. In my new home in Germany (about as far from Sydney as I could have gone!), I feel like I have embarked on my own journey - one of self discovery, reinvention and the pursuit of happiness. So, Eat Pray Love seemed like the perfect companion and I was hoping to feel inspired and rejuvenated after reading it.
Maybe my expectations for this book were a little high, given my own personal emotional investment in a story like this, but what else would you expect from a memoir recounting one woman’s search for “everything”?