Before reading “Eat Pray Love”, I noticed that many of the reviews were highly polarized. While overall I very much enjoyed this book, I can also understand those who didn’t. In many ways the book feels like a self-indulgent first draft that needs the hand of a good editor to tighten it up. While Elizabeth Gilbert has an intimate style of writing and a witty turn of phrase, it did feel like EVERY funny story and EVERY clever thought had to be crammed in. Sentences like: “every word was a singing sparrow, a magic trick, a truffle for me” – why use one metaphor in a sentence when three will do?!
I found it interesting the way that the writing style mirrors Liz’s journey. When she starts out in Italy her writing is frenzied and self-obsessed. We hear far more about her depression than we hear about Rome. She revisits her failed marriage and failed relationship to the point that it feels like the book is stagnating. What makes this extra frustrating is that when she does occasionally talk about Italy, her writing is exquisite. She describes Venice as “a wonderful city in which to die a slow alcoholic death…spooky under its gray November skies”. Another standout for me is a wonderful description of going to a soccer game. She also integrates quotes from famous people and facts about places very well.
In the middle section of the book (at the ashram in India), the pace slows. This section is mostly about Liz’s struggles with meditation – lots of breakthroughs followed by setbacks, followed by more breakthroughs followed by yet more setbacks. I found this section interesting, but it’s not really about India.
The final section, in Bali, was the standout for me, as Liz learns to assimilate the personal growth that she achieved in India into everyday life. She builds some very real relationships with the locals and I found her descriptions of Bali and the culture to be insightful and interesting. For the first time, it felt like she was able to look around and recognize that she was not the most interesting and important thing to write about.
Despite its flaws, I very much enjoyed this book. The short chapters and frequent humor kept me turning the pages and I warmed to Liz as I read on. The idea of taking a year off from life is not something that I would be in a position to do, but I enjoyed reading about someone else’s adventure.