So I finished the book today (for my initial reaction and mid-read review, please see my previous post). After reading it, I also updated my (brand new!) Goodreads app profile, and skimmed through some of the other reviews of Gilbert’s astonishingly successful memoir – many of them vitriolically negative. The objections mainly seem to be around the following categories:
- This is boring and whiny
- This woman is self-centred/self-obsessed/selfish
- There is nothing actually spiritual in here, she didn’t learn anything real so there’s nothing real to pass on.
Well… fair enough! I think the best thing to say in Gilbert’s defence is that she never claimed to have all the answers – Eat Pray Love is a memoir; an autobiography – and if it’s read as anything else I suspect the reader will be fully disappointed. As to what I thought:
- I didn’t find it boring. I found the second half of the book as engaging as the first; mostly, as I have said, because I found myself really liking the author. I felt like we had stuff in common. I think she’s funny, and I like the way she strings words together. I didn’t feel like she was whiny, and when she was, she acknowledged it herself in a pleasingly self-deprecating way.
- This one is interesting. I think there’s a very subtle difference between selfishness (knowing of others’ needs, but choosing your own instead of theirs, usually to their deriment), self-centredness (others’ needs not even occurring to you) and self-care (prioritising your own needs in order to be able to meet the needs of others). Eat Pray Love, in my opinion, is a book about one woman’s attempt to do/be the latter. I don’t know the details of why her first marriage didn’t work, and quite frankly – that’s none of my business! It may be the case (as some commenters seem to feel) that Gilbert was entirely weak and unjustified in leaving her first husband, and that she had no good reason whatsoever for welching on the vows and commitment she had made… but honestly, that is between her and her first husband. She never tells anyone else that they should quit their marriage… only that she felt she had to. So the anger and vitriol here baffles me a little. I have personally grappled with the idea of selfishness vs. self-care for a long time – I work in the third sector/education (a self-sacrificial industry if ever there was one!) and grew up in the culture of the UK evangelical church, with its tenets of “Greater love hath no man than this…” – so the book read to me like a long way of saying “Here’s how I tried to put on my own oxygen mask first”. Whether or not she did that in the right way, or if there even is a right way, is never brought up, actually, except by the commenters, and while I would almost certainly make very very different choices to the ones made by Gilbert, it doesn’t make me angry or make me enjoy her story any less that she made them.
- Again, I think some of the disappointment/disdain/anger I have been seeing from commenters and reviewers in this area comes from a fundamental genre misunderstanding… Gilbert is not your guru. She’s not tried to write a religious textbook, or a how-to-meditate, or a ten-easy-steps-to-find-yourself/God/your first million/happiness. IT’S A MEMOIR. Again, I personally found some deeply substantial material within Gilbert’s story to enable to me chew over complex thoughts of faith, religion, philosophy and identity… but then again, I didn’t go looking for that. It was an added bonus.
Ultimately, I’m very glad I read this, and – highest praise from a millennial who seeks new material with the all-consuming power of a black hole – I will definitely read it again. Would I recommend it? Definitely; as long as you’re prepared to read it for what it is – one woman’s very unique and highly personal journey – and not anything else.
P.s. I recognise that my complete turnaround from prejudiced sceptic to happy fan has necessitated some public eating of the humble pie. Witness the text message exchange that happened immediately after publication of my previous post, between myself and the friend I mentioned, who had given me the book in the first place…!