I find it so surprising--reading the angry, negative reviews--that the people who hated the book hated it for exactly the reasons why some steer clear away from the the spiritual-journey-memoir genre. Yes, the author is self-absorbed, yes, she seems to think of only trite stuff, yes, she seems self-indulgent with her problems. And yes, she's allowed. It is after all a book that is positioned to address these things in the author's self; who otherwise would not be searching for something more: more meaning and more appreciation in/of her life.
Here is a woman who shows all the possibly-perceived-as-lacking-substance thoughts of hers and we are throwing tomatoes at her. One thing, she obviously wasn't afraid of that. She wasn't aiming to be coming off as some deeply wise woman but a fumbling girl-woman trying to break out of what she felt was imminent disaster (had she had the baby and delayed her need to find out what she truly wants from her life she might have left not only her husband, but their child, or most probably ending up not leaving out of guilt and becoming crazy instead: exposing her family to that for years; not an uncommon reality). She is not one for anti-depressants, remember.
This memoir falls in the same category as the TV show Sex and the City (of which it was compared to in a review here). Both get trampled for being supposedly superficial, covering the silly plights of city girls who don't know what they want and yet have everything. But this book--as the TV show--actually are part of a wider story that is illiciting reactions from the public because it reflects the transition in which women in the modern world are experiencing: now that we have equality with men professionally, now that we are liberated from all the limitations being a woman dictated two generations ago, how does that affect us? From a distance, in a glance, it seems that women have all the cards to play with now. But this book and many other works by women and/or about women of this generation show that having all those cards does not mean Happiness.
There are still things in society--in regards to a woman's role--that grates. And then there are things within our Modernised, Westernized, Individualized, Ambitious selves, that are lacking.
This is what Miss Gilbert's search is about, and what she represents.
On a collective level, much of the modern world is in search of God, Spirituality (one just needs to walk through bookstores in the US and see the plethora of soul searching self help books on the shelves). This is what needs to be observed and understood as a phenomena in the West; the small voices, small cries, here and there by those who come up with the balls to share their journeys and thoughts with us--no matter how trite-sounding, how shallow-seeming--are part of a collective howl for the meaning of life.
Elizabeth Gilbert's voice is just one of many that calls for recognition as part of a chorus for something that firstly, many women are hollering about, and secondly, humanity in general--humanity in the first world--are crying for: some kind of guidance, indication, that the collective paths we fought for and chose (the best education, career ambitions realised, a certain amount of money needed to live that certain kind of magazine-lifestyle life--which is what Liz Gilbert's life is a reflection of, remember--love in the form of marriage and what society dictates) are truly the things that give us peace and happiness in the infinite sense.
Eat, Pray, Love might not be that deep, wise voice representing the deep, wise journey into the deep, wise self. But this book's packaging and tone, hell, its WORDS, never did say it was. It is a fumbling--almost child-like in its guilelessness--show of the ego's awareness and needs, and its attempt at searching for what many people from all walks of life only wish they could go out and find: THEMSELVES. SELF, being the keyword here. And in this memoir, ultimately, God, being in each of our selves.
To the people who were disappointed that the author didn't seem to give a hoot about India's poverty, they must have not read the book through: Miss Gilbert never ventured out of her ashram and the little village it is located in, after making a decision to further develop her meditation skills and thus skipping the rest of India. She also ignored Italy's corruption with her indulging in good food and focus on learning and enjoying the Italian language. Again, the critics missed the point of this memoir. It's a book about a writer, a New Yorker, a recently-divorced-woman-in-her-early-thirties' journey to heal and find spiritual strength through various means: pleasure first to recover (Italy), spiritual examination and purging (India), combining the two for balance (Bali), which would result hopefully in the kind of substance and depth and balance that so many critics mentioned she lacks.
One doesn't pick this book up to: 1. Be exposed to India's poverty and expect the author to discuss that in depth. 2. Be exposed to Italy's corruption and expect the author to discuss that in depth. 3. Be exposed to Balinese wiles and expect the author to discuss that in depth. (which she actually did in the account of the Balinese woman she raised money for to buy the land the woman needed to build a home).
Next time you pick a book up at the bookstore, call up your powers of perception before purchasing it. A book IS pretty much its cover. Did everyone really expect a book titled "Eat, Pray, Love" A Woman's Search for Everything, to be an experience of religious fervor, one that would reveal the secrets of the universe? It's a story about a girl who thought everything she thought she wanted, would bring her happiness. It didn't. It didn't for her, and possibly not for many other women. If it took this one woman to go to Italy, India, and Indonesia, to get away after a difficult and painful divorce to heal and get perspective--instead of festering and turning into a pile of flesh in depression--then by all means. Yes, she financed her travels through her book advance--after giving away the suburban home and NYC apartment to her ex-husband. And if she wrote this book for us, it's really for us to appreciate and enjoy the ride with her. Anybody else who got so upset needed only to put the book down and pick another one to their taste. If anything, that's this book's lesson: Do what makes you smile and thankful for life.