Ok, so I have a confession to make. A friend gave me this book after finding out I have never read it, and what I didn’t tell her (unless she’s reading this now…!) is that I have for some time harboured an illogical, unjustified prejudice against the idea.
I can’t put my finger on exactly why… maybe I absorbed the ill-formed opinions of others around me; maybe ten years ago I could not necessarily tell the difference between self-care, self-centredness, and selfishness and so reacted poorly to the idea of a grown woman running away from her life, family and commitments and this being considered a good thing(?!); but more likely is the simple tendency I have noticed in myself to see that millions of people are saying that I should read this book… and dig my heels in with an obstinate “NOPE”.
Hey, I never said I was proud of myself!
So, for whatever reason, I have never read this book. Never seen the film, never really known much more about it than millions love it, millions hate it, and almost everybody makes fun of it at some time or another. The title has entered common parlance – don’t go all eat pray love on me now! – and has now, through the hearty recommendation and generous nature of my friend, entered my life.
I’m reading the tenth anniversary edition. I’m glad I’m reading the tenth anniversary edition, because although I didn’t know there was anything different about it, in this edition, the author has written a new foreword, a decade after writing her memoir. In this foreword, she reflects on the insane uptake of her book, describing her sense that:
…very quickly on publication, Eat Pray Love was gobbled up by the world, and the world made it theirs – theirs to love, theirs to hate, theirs to emulate, theirs to parody.
If, like me, you have never read this book or watched Julia Roberts play the author, and if, like me, you have fostered a sense of distrust and suspicion towards this book, and yet find yourself wanting to read it… I would recommend starting with the tenth anniversary edition. Mostly because of the new foreword. Gilbert’s thoughts, ten years on, eerily echoed my own, and I found myself warming to this person – to her common sense, humility and humour – before I had actually started reading about the time her life fell apart. By the time I actually started the book proper, I was much more open to hearing what Gilbert had to say – I liked her, dammit, albeit against my will! I liked her, and she knew already that I might hate this book, and that people telling me what to do makes me grumpy, and she is ready for it. She doesn’t try to persuade me that she has the answers and that I must read her book… so, of course, because I am a contrary-wise predictable child, I want to read the book.
It’s structured in three parts, for three countries and three words (Eat, Pray, and Love, funnily enough) and, halfway through Pray I have decided to pause for a mid-read blog post. I think I need to think about some of this stuff! It’s quite gripping writing – I still like this woman – and it’s tempting to gobble the thing up in one day but I think I would like to take some time to let some of these words sit for a spell. In the meantime, let me share my thoughts so far:
1 – I am completely surprised by the tone of voice. I had expected something ultra-serious, treating life and spirituality as higher concepts too important to laugh about, but I was way wrong. This chick is funny!
2 – I think what is so engaging about it is the honest humanity. It is, after all, a memoir and not a religious instruction book – and it reads like a memoir. Gilbert is honest and down to earth about her own thoughts, experiences and processes, and (which I love) she constantly pokes fun at herself. This is much more appealing than didactic “I have found the answer” style stuff. It makes the higher, spiritual & emotional ideas – which are touched upon – much more accessible, because you’re not being told how to think about them, but you’re being shown how someone else has experienced them. Many of the emotions and frustrations expressed are somehow universal; at the same time I’m thinking how I will never know how she felt, because I am not her, but also how I know exactly how she felt because I have felt that too. It’s honest, and it’s engaging.
3 – I understand why lots of people made such a fuss about this book, now. Having gone from ‘I bet I’ll hate this’ to ‘Oh crap I’m crying on the DLR’ before I’d reached chapter ten, I recognise myself as having been dragged from my own stubbornness to arrive at the party a decade after everyone else, only to realise what a good party it is! I don’t know yet how I’ll feel or what I’ll think at the end of the book, but it’s already been worth reading. Partly because I recognise some familiar friends within the pages. Feminism, for one. The way Gilbert writes with awe about the concept that women, too, can choose who they want to be and where they want their lives to go (without clawing down anyone else, male or female, in the process) is reminiscent of another writer whom I love – Caitlin Moran. It was Moran who first convinced me that I am a feminist, and she did it with common sense, gentleness, and a whole bunch of jokes. Reading Eat Pray Love, then, I am on familiar ground. Funny, simple, and important, all told through the lens of personal experience.
There are some bigger, more personal thoughts going on in here, too – but I think I’ll let them germinate a little before trying to put them into words. Although I don’t have the same explosive, evangelical appetite for Eat Pray Love as I found in 10% Human, I’m still quietly keen to find out what I’ll think after finishing.