Does my not being a woman impact the way I respond to Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat, Pray. Love”? Surely it must. My paperback edition’s cover unashamedly pitches it as a work for women: “10 million women worldwide…” etc. etc. as if it were a Bible for life. Someone said to me “You’re reading that?”…
It’s a shame the book is pitched in this way because her core topics – getting over toxic relationships, finding God (in whatever shape and form you choose), and finding yourself – are clearly not gender-specific. For example, I was totally with Gilbert during her sojourn in Italy – the ‘Eat’ part – as she strove to corral happiness once again, to begin to re-find meaningful things in her life. Isn’t that something we’ve all done; indeed, are probably constantly trying to do.
And given the credit she’d built up with me during the first third of the book, I was prepared to go with her as best I could during her search for God. Not being a religious person (which is different from not being spiritual, of course), finding God is an ambition I have never felt the need to pursue – but when it comes to the sort of inner peace Gilbert managed to acquire on occasion… well, who couldn’t be jealous?
But then she lost me in Bali. I found myself (probably irrationally) disappointed when she gave in to Filipe; it felt as if she’d chosen to undo much of her good work, reneged on the promise she’d made to herself to have a year of self-discovery – with the emphasis on the ‘self’ part. And it’s not as if she went to Bali looking for love; I for one never saw love as the third thing she needed to tick off a bucket-list.
Don’t get me wrong; I was/am really happy for her, and pleased that Filipe worked out long-term (I confess I half-expected him to turn into a rogue and dump her right back where she started…). It was just that, for me, in the context of the story it felt like a misstep. A bit too fairy story maybe… But then that’s wrong too, isn’t it, because she wrote about what actually happened, and so – from a story-teller perspective – she was captive to actual events.
Which brings me back to my original point. Is all that a man’s reaction? If I were a woman, would I better appreciate the inherent logic of what happened in Bali? I don’t know. How can I?
What I do know is that “Eat, Prey, Love” is well written, and I intend to try some of Gilbert’s fiction. I also know that I never intend to watch the 2010 movie of the book because I can’t imagine how – for all Julia Roberts’ talent – they will have been able to do anything other than trivialise her journey, heading straight to the lowest common romantic denominator possible…