by Leah Squance
Several years ago, I read Eat, Pray, Love: One woman’s search for everything across Italy, India and Indonesia, Elizabeth Gilbert’s 2006 memoir. Like many of the millions worldwide who read it, I loved it. As a woman in my 30s battling depression, I sympathized with Gilbert’s angst, her desire to live a different life. I soaked up her journey as though it were my own, traveling to different places (I want to live in Italy! I want to go to an ashram!), meeting different people and having some kind of spiritual experience. I wasn’t interested in engaging in critical analysis. I saw only inspiration in the story: I am not the only 30-something woman who seems to have everything but feels hopelessly lost anyway.
While I don’t credit Gilbert with being the catalyst for my own life-changing journey, there is no doubt that her book provided a sort of backdrop. At the age of 35, I left my successful career, sold my condo, and headed to Mexico with my boyfriend, carrying (almost) all my material possessions in a 30-litre backpack. And yes, I did find what I was looking for – eventually – and share in common with Gilbert a “happily ever after” ending to my travels.
Because of my own lack of critical analysis at the time, I was unprepared for how deeply Gilbert was criticized, first when her book was published and later when the movie was released. EPL spent close to 200 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and undoubtedly got many positive reviews. Mixed reviews of bestsellers are to be expected, but what really struck me about the critical reviews is how many of them focused not on the quality of the book, but on Gilbert herself and the choices she made.
The words “navel-gazing” , “self-indulgent” , and “narcissistic” all come up. Some reviews smack of bitterness that, as a successful writer with a book advance, Gilbert was afforded an opportunity that few get. Others state openly that embarking on a journey to “find herself” is the worst kind of self-absorption. Both types of reviews suggest that Gilbert should just have been grateful for what she had rather than seeking any further kind of personal fulfillment. Read more