Eat, Pray, Love tells the story of writer Elizabeth Gilbert's year off, recovering from the aftermath of a divorce that began with sadness and ended in bitter acrimony. In some ways freed to explore what she really wanted to do with her life, Gilbert decided to learn Italian, like she'd always wanted to, and the best way to do that was to live in Italy. Two years earlier she' d gone to Indonesia for an article, and been asked by the healer she met there to return. She also wanted to spend time at an Ashram run by her Guru. After much reflection, Gilbert decided to spend four months in each place, spending a year of "I" (Italy, India, Indonesia) while rediscovering herself.
Already an established writer, Gilbert kept a journal of her time away, and the book combined present tense writing that reads like extracts from the journal, with reflection and factual details, like how the Italian language uniquely came to be. The book is set up like an Indian prayer thread - 108 chapters, comprising 3 sections (one for each country), 36 chapters per section, plus a 109th 'bead', the introduction. The title describes the dominant gain Gilbert achieved in each country - in Italy she rediscovered the joy of eating, and regained the weight she lost while in a deep depression in New York; in India she meditated, prayed, and came to peace with herself; and in Indonesia she opened her wounded heart to love once more.
I kept flipping between involved and irritated while reading Eat, Pray, Love - I like her voice, and I like the idea that I, too, could up sticks and take off for an unplanned voyage of discovery, even though I know that's never going to happen. I have respect for people who do do it, though - be impetuous and less concerned about other people than themselves (which makes me cound like I think I'm some self-sacrificing saint).
But there's a strong streak of self-indulgence and... Americanism, for lack of a better word (which really isn't fair, but I'm having trouble articulating the self-centred, quasi-profound spiritual journey bits more accurately) that was like nails on a blackboard only more so, because that sound doesn't really bother me. For example, Gilbert describes 'conversations' she has with herself in a notebook, where a calm and accepting voice speaks to her, that I'm sure were profound but which read like wankery to me. Throughout most of the book Gilbert focuses on herself rather than on aspects of the places where she is - there's not a word about the poverty that abounds in all the countries she stayed, appreciation for other people except as to their relationship to her needs and wants. And at the end she is at peace with the universe.
I've found the same with friends who've taken off on a voyage of discovery and come home being One with the Universe, which seems to mean not having to pay their way, overstaying their welcome in the guest room, and being generally dismissive of the lifestyles of their less wanderlust friends. Not that I have any issues of my own that this brought up for me!
All in all I'm glad I read Eat, Pray, Love and I get the hype - it's a perfect Oprah book: it has pathos and spirituality and self-discovery and a happy ending. Just keep in mind that it's a year of "I" in every sense, and keep a rubbish bin to hand in case you become nauseated. - Alex