Mar 08, 08
Read in February, 2008
Don't bother with this book.
It took me nearly a year to finish it. I was so disgusted by the writer's apparent lack of awareness of her own privilege, her trite observations, and the unbelievably shallow way in which she represents a journey initiated by grief, that I initially couldn't bear to read beyond Italy. Like others who have written here, I made myself pick the book up again because so many people have raved about it, and I made myself finish it, hoping all the while there would be some redemptive insight or at least some small kernel of originality or wisdom. I was sorely disappointed. Liz is so obsessed with male attention throughout the book (in every section, she expounds in great detail on her flirtations with men, many of whom seem to "take care of her" or compliment her on her wit, beauty, or charm), that it makes her self-described quest to learn to be alone seem absurd and farcical. She does not have a feminist bone in her body; shocking for a woman who is purportedly on a quest for self-discovery after what she describes as a "devastaing divorce." She seems to have absolutely no capacity for self-awareness or reflection in this regard, and her superficial treatment of this and other aspects of her psyche bored me to tears. Basically, this memoir accounts her flirting her way across the globe into a new relationship, with little to no growth in self awareness that I can perceive. Even in India, her purported time of inward reflection, she attaches her herself to the likes of Richard from Texas, who seems a cross between a father figure and object of flirtation. Ultimately, she falls in love with a man much older than she, who seems to dote on her in quite a paternalistic way. When she spends pages talking about her bladder infection from too much sex, I have to question what her intentions are in writing about this? Why do we need to know about her bladder infection? What does it add to our understanding of her quest? To me, it says only, "Look! I'm desirable!" Not so interesting.
Additionally, her brand of spirituality certainly does not come close to transcending the fashionable Western obsession with all things Eastern, particularly Buddhism and the ashram culture. That a Westerner could go to India on her spiritual quest and have absolutely no awareness of 1) her gross appropriation of another culture's religion, and 2) the abject poverty that surrounds her, is inexusable. She oozes privilege at every turn, and that privilege remains unacknowledged and unexamined.
I was willing to look past my initial reaction that the end of a relationship is not, in the grand scheme of things, "that bad;" everyone's suffering certainly has its own validity. However, I was unable to muster much empathy for Elizabeth Gilbert despite my attempts to overcome my disgust at her shallow preoccupation.
Ultimately, this woman had nothing to teach me (other than that I should trust my own instincts to abandon a book when I have such a strong reaction of dislike from page one). I am sorry I spent the time and energy trying to finish it. I happened to read somewhere that she has recently bought a church in Manhattan which she is converting into her personal living space. And this is enlightenment? I am sickened that Paramount has bought the rights to the book for a motion picture, and that she stands to make even more money than she already has on this insipid memoir.