by Zoe Shapiro
The filmic version of Eat, Pray, Love opens this week. If nothing else, the cinematic world tour and the return of Julia Roberts to starring roles might convince me to buy a ticket (she’s America’s Sweetheart for gosh sakes!). The compulsive that I am, this means first reading the book that I’ve been avoiding for the last eighteen months. Reviews have been decidedly mixed; friends, family and critics have been alternatively loving or loathing it. On principle I hate it when what’s popular is mistaken for quality. But read it I did. The book chronicles Elizabeth Gilbert’s decision to search for pleasure and devotion in Italy, India and Indonesia after a contentious divorce and the onset of depression.
At first, I was totally sympathetic. The ending of an engagement had also been the last straw for the neurons and chemicals in my brain that were predetermined towards depression. I too have studied Italian in the hope of giving my mouth muscle memory of a language that beautiful. Like Gilbert, I cherished my month in Florence and the four cheese gnocchi also led me to gain more than a little weight (yup, I was pasta-pregnant for nine months post-trip). But as Gilbert left one glorious country and experience and moved onto India (my current number one dream destination) to sit in an ashram and discuss her meditation with the reader, I began to lose my patience. Who was this women and who the fuck does she think she is, living my fantasy!? And doing it poorly! She sanctimoniously retells her struggles within the meditation cave, having opted to ditch Goan beaches and the Taj to quiet her mind for a further 3 months.
Get real lady. Despite having the funds to pay for a pricey divorce and ditch responsibility for a whole year, as WELL as a support system so caring and vast that numerous people flew out to join her on her travels and raised $18,000 in ONE week when she summoned them to donate, Gilbert struggles to find the pleasure in pasta or the devotion in dharma. It’s only when she takes a Brazilian lover in Bali that things begin to right themselves in her life. COME ON!
As a travel itinerary, Eat, Pray, Love IS inspiring. But this book, supposedly meant to inspire all of us confused gals with our noisy minds, is totally condescending. Don’t slap a label on it and call it inspirational if the medicine you’re prescribing is tailor made for one patient only. Look, if you can take a year out to go get centred and happy in amazing destinations, I say do it. I certainly would. Just don’t preach it as essential gospel when it’s so obviously indulgent and by and large unattainable.
I’ll still see the movie though, if only to indulge in an orgy of total wanderlust envy. Plus if anyone’s charming enough to cut through the bullshit, it’s gotta be Vivian Ward, right?