Bookclub: Eat Pray Love – love it or hate it?

It’s bookclub time! And if you don’t have a copy of Eat Pray Love, if you haven’t read that copy and maybe even lent it to a friend and then bought another copy so you could read it again, I will be shocked. It’s been YEARS on the best-seller list all over the world, including here, and it’s recently had a huge resurgence thanks to Julia Roberts and the film.

No video from Paula and I today. We thought we’d mix it up a bit. My partner in bookclub, Lifestyled‘s Paula Joye, had some very strong feelings about Eat, Pray, Love. Stronger than mine (I just loved it, mostly for Elizabeth Gilbert‘s writing style).

Paula writes:

I am one of the few women on the planet who did not adore Eat, Pray, Love. I know, I know… How could I not? What’s wrong with me? Don’t I have a soul? I get it. But honestly, I really just didn’t like the book.  It grated on every single nerve in my body. I found Elizabeth Gilbert whiney, earnest, whingey – her navel-gazing was almost suffocating.

This has made me very unpopular around the office water cooler, on the school run, at the dry cleaner. At Mia’s house. Women universally love, adore and inhale this book. Disliking it has made me an island and not part of the cult, I mean club.

The basic plot is promising. Gilbert 34 goes through a painful divorce and leaves behind a vicious city, pace and job to heal herself emotionally and spiritually. There is food in Italy, friendship in India then love and Ever After in Bali. Great on paper but then she says stuff like “I can make friends with anybody. I can make friends with the dead. . . . If there isn’t anyone else around to talk to, I could probably make friends with a four-foot-tall pile of Sheetrock” and I want to hit her.

If I ran into her at an ashram, hell at the bus stop, I would run the other way. Far, far away.
What bugged me the most was that Elizabeth didn’t acknowledge what I thought was evident. Obvious even. She left her world and marriage in search of a different, potentially better option but never truly dealt or discussed the undercurrent of disillusionment at failing to build the conventional life – kids, husband, dog, etc – that she was expected too.

Author Elizabeth Gilbert

Then I heard Elizabeth Gilbert speak and it was AMAZING.  It made me look at her, the book and the whole EPL phenomenon in a totally new way. It absolutely changed my preconceived idea of what type of woman she was. I could see that she wasn’t just the “ I need an apartment with two bedrooms so I can build a meditation room” (yes, that line’s in the book). She was a New Yorker, a journalist, complex, funny and most importantly she was flawed. Suddenly, she was much closer to women I liked. I fell in love with her that day. Instantly. Infact, if I ran into her at a bus stop I would jump into her handbag and live there for the rest of my life.

Did I mention I’m a Gemini?

EPL came back onto my radar this year  – thank you Julia Roberts – and my experience with the re-read for Bookclub has been utterly converse to the first. Enjoyable. Joyful. Reflective.

I still don’t love it but this time around I noticed and appreciated Gilbert’s wit much, much more, I realized how utterly likeable she is as a character and it made me believe in the possibility of transformation. Which is something I want. For myself, and for others I love.

EPL is full of many mixed messages and a few too many clichés for me to ever call it a favourite but I now understand why it has changed lives.

Hope springs eternal and that, for me, is this books message.

I’m glad I finally got it.

DISCUSSION: Mia and I think that this book cannot be broken down into discussion questions because everyone’s experience with it is unique. The gift in this book is the power to talk about your own journey.

And if you hated it – you have an ally in me.

The trailer for the film

Elizabeth Gilbert talks about Eat, Pray Love

In the wake of the success of Elizabeth Gilbert’s bestselling novel and film Eat, Pray, Love there is much talk of travelling the spiritual journey. Karen* writes

I currently live in Thailand and am about to embark on my own DIY self-discovery ala Elizabeth Gilbert.

So, I’ve been researching meditation centres and came across this extraordinary tale of Austrian woman Brigitte Schrottenbacher. At age 27, Brigitte went to Thailand and did her first Buddhist meditation retreat. She found it so profound that she decided to shed everything about her past existence, including her house, partner… and two small children…

Obviously, Brigitte went through some pretty heavy inner turmoil in deciding to leave her kids. She drew on meditation and the insight of her teacher to reconcile the massive changes in her life and to let go of her ‘attachment’ to her children.

Brigitte is now a nun and well respected teacher of Buddhism, having taken up permanent residence at a Wat (temple) outside of Bangkok. While Brigitte has made substantial contributions to the Buddhist community over the last two decades, her relationship with her children, it appears, is pretty thin. And her ex-partner is majorly pissed off.

Despite all of her good works and wisdom, my first impulse was to judge Brigitte harshly. I thought it was pretty off-kilter to let go of her kids, damning them to years of therapy for ‘abandonment’ issues for the sake of her spiritual journey.

But maybe I’m just being sexist. Is this a case of ‘selfish spiritualism’ and abandoning all responsibilities for the pursuit of inner peace? Or is it just a woman taking the brave and necessary steps to pursue her true calling? (as men have done for centuries, might I add!).How ‘spiritual’ are women allowed to be these days?

So what did you think of the book? Did you see the film? How do they compare?

And remember, the next book we’re doing in a few weeks is Caroline Overington’s brilliant new novel I Came To Say Goodbye. You can read the details here….