Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Reading List 2008: Colonialism in a Memoir

Over my business trip, I finished Elizabeth Gilbert's memoir Eat Pray Love. (331 pages) While I enjoyed reading her spiritual/personal/emotional journey, I felt a little icky reading it.

Let me explain. I definitely think there is some strength and power in her act of taking time out of her (love) life in order to center herself spiritually and find balance in her life. However, I have two problems with her project.

First, in order to find herself she needs to leave America (fine) and immerse herself in another culture (also fine). But the way in which she insinuates herself into the culture -- simultaneously adopting and fetishizing their way of life -- seemed a bit offensive. I felt a little like I was reading a British women in the nineteenth century having her one last fling in Italy before going back to her staid normal life.

Secondly, I found her voice throughout the book to be a little annoying. There, I said it. I found myself admiring and loathing her, alternately. Now, the likability or charisma of a memoir's narrator is a huge part of the reading experience. In fact, it is probably the most important quality of the reading experience. She was kind of like that friend who leads a super-dramatic life and needs all of the attention all of the time.

Now, despite my above grievances, I did enjoy the book. I think she led some fascinating experiences, and I would love to have the opportunity to spend a year abroad. I'm wondering if anyone else out there had mixed feelings about the book, or if I'm just feeling some sour grapes.

Total For 2008: 1901 pages
Genres: Memoir (2), Essay (1), Graphic Novel (1), Non-Fiction (2), Poetry (2)


Maw Books said...

I'm with you. When I wrote up my review for this book I thought am I the only one who thought this way? But I've come to find out in my web browsing that people either feel like she is their long lost best friend, they hate her or have mixed feelings. I had mixed feelings. She was annoying a bit. Way to high maintenance for me. And since I was jealous of her ability to just take a year off "from life" I couldn't get over her whining all the time.

Dennis said...

Jessica - My wife moaned and groaned through the whole book as well. I remember saying on several occasions, "then just put it down!" She said that when the story finally moved into India, it got much better, but that it was painful up until that point. But somehow, she still liked it.


Christine said...

I listened to the book on my ipod, walking for miles and miles last spring.I really got a good dose of her voice, since she read the book herself.

She tells a good story, but she also seems very pleased to be Elizabeth Gilbert. It had too much of a quasi-happy ending.

I say quasi, because it didn't seem too great being Felipe's lover. How much you want to bet she goes back to the States and realizes, "Oh my God, what have I done?" and the panic attacks start all over again... Just kidding, but it really wasn't gritty enough for me.

jeannine said...

Yes, the first place she lost me was when, in the first chapter, she started talking about money and how she might...horrors!...lose her SECOND home. Yah, a little hard to relate to there.
The second was when she talked about giving money to the woman who needed the house - something was off about that whole episode.
But the speaker worked really hard to be likable, and humble, trustworthy, and show how nice she was - that was her biggest narrative voice quality. I agree with you - I was alternately amused and horrified.

GFS3 said...

I was on the fence about picking this up and after reading your thoughts about it -- I think I'm going to pass.

I'm not in the mood for icky these days.

Anonymous said...

Disagree. The year abroad has not much to do with the travel, rather it is a reflection of the journey she is going throughinwardly, to reclaim something of herself that she had perhaps lost in a difficult marriage. I thought it was just honest, I understand why many people would find it difficult to relate to it - it does go against the grain of many of our beliefs and expectations.