One-Minute Book Reviews

April 5, 2007

Elizabeth Gilbert’s ‘Eat, Pray, Love’: What Do You Say to God Besides, ‘I’ve Always Been a Big Fan of Your Work’?

After a bruising divorce, a woman in her 30s finds her way back to herself with rest stops in Rome, Mumbai and Bali

Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia. By Elizabeth Gilbert. Penguin, 352 pp., $15, paperback.

By Janice Harayda

In her early 30s, Elizabeth Gilbert kept thinking about something her sister had said while breast-feeding her firstborn: “Having a baby is like getting a tattoo on your face. You really need to be certain it’s what you want before you commit.”

Gilbert took her words to heart. She quit trying to get pregnant, divorced her husband, moved out of their house in a New York suburb and took a year-long break from life as she had known it.

As she puts it in Eat, Pray, Love, she went to Rome for “pleasure” and to an ashram near Mumbai for “devotion” or spiritual renewal. Then it was off to Bali for “balance,” though this goal took a hit when she had so much sex with her island boyfriend that she got a bladder inflection. (A medicine woman cured her by making her drink a foul-smelling brew made from roots, leaves, berries, turmeric and a “shaggy mass of something that looked like witches’ hair.”) Gilbert, a writer for GQ, has some interesting things to say about the places she visits. But she’s nowhere near as good at highly inflected travel writing as, say, Geoff Dyer, whose Yoga For People Who Can’t Be Bothered to Do It offers much more thoughtful writing on Indonesia and other countries. Great travel writers sell you on a personal vision of a place. Gilbert is selling something else: the idea that you can fix what’s wrong with your life buying a few plane tickets to spots that you’ve always wanted to visit. In her case, “recovery” sounds a lot like another form of consumerism.

Best line: Gilbert says that as her marriage fell apart, she wanted to ask God for help but wasn’t sure how to pray: “In fact, it was all I could do to stop myself from saying, ‘I’ve always been a big fan of your work …’”

Worst line: “A word about masturbation, if I may. Sometimes it can be a handy (forgive me) tool …” This kind of wordy and cute-instead-of-witty prose turns up often in Eat, Pray, Love.

Published: February 2006 (Viking hardcover), January 2007 (Penguin paperback)

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.


  1. Hi Janice –
    I couldn’t agree with you more. Cutesy prose. I realized quickly that this was a high maintenance woman…not that *that’s* a particularly bad thing…it’s just an observation…er…my oberservation.

    The main idea that I couldn’t shake was this: There are probably many many women in similar positions that she was in…but they certainly didn’t / don’t have the luxury to disassociate themselves from life, take several months off to regroup, have the money to travel the world during the process and …oh yeah…write a book.

    With all that said, I actually DID buy her hardcover edition, so I am, in fact, a supporter in the firmest sense. I gave up cash…but I won’t do that again. I’ll wait for more reviews and hopefully types of books will turn up in my library first and I can spend my reading money more wisely.


    Comment by P — April 14, 2007 @ 2:40 pm | Reply

  2. Oh, how critics appreciate comments like yours! “Eat, Pray, Love” has been a huge bestseller … and whenever I take on a book like it (as I seem to do often!) I have the sense that I am swimming so strongly against the current that I brace for assaults. It’s so heartening to hear that you “got” the review.

    You’re right that Gilbert is offering a fantasy of divorce that is unrealistic for all but a few women. A fantasy can be OK if the writing makes up for the unreality (if a book justifies itself as art if not as self-help). But the writing in “Eat, Pray, Love” isn’t nearly as good as in many other books about divorce, including Wendy Swallow’s “Breaking Apart,” which I just reviewed.

    But Gilbert’s book is still highly visible — I just saw the paperback yesterday at the front of a bookstore on Fifth Avenue — and I hope that people who are tempted to buy it will take your comments to heart. Thanks so much for leaving them.

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — April 14, 2007 @ 4:45 pm | Reply

  3. Sorry – my last sentence is pathetic 🙂 What I wanted to say was : “I’ll wait for my library to get these types of books and I’ll spend my reading money more wisely.”


    Comment by P — April 14, 2007 @ 8:03 pm | Reply

  4. Me again. Your SITE is sooooo interesting!!!

    Of interest to other readers may be this quiz – ‘Belief-o-matic’.

    It’s an interesting ‘take’ on the whole thought of ‘religion’: what it does and doesn’t do for you …

    Haven’t read Gilbert’s effort. It just doesn’t appeal for some reason – maybe it’s the cutsey title itself that turns me off?

    Cheers, c

    Comment by canadada — October 29, 2007 @ 10:35 am | Reply

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: