I actually read Committed, the quasi-sequel to Elizabeth Gilbert’s East, Pray, Love, first, and found it very thought-provoking. Her boyfriend had run afoul of Immigration so they married and travelled the world while his residency status was up in the air (nice life for some!) and she explored different culture’s attitudes towards love, marriage and family, blowing holes in the Western ideals of true love and love at first sight. As I said, very interesting and so I read Eat, Pray, Love.
I cannot express how big a pile of narcissistic claptrap EPL is. She decides one day she doesn’t love her husband anymore, and is off to Europe to sleep with whoever takes her fancy. Now, please don’t misunderstand me, I am not slut-shaming Gilbert. S’long as it involves consenting adults, you should be able to sleep with whoever you want. But marriage vows (at least the traditional ones that it sounds like she undertook) kinda imply that you DON’T consent to the other sleeping with third parties while married to you, and this is what she was doing to her husband.
Let’s gender flip this: imagine a husband wakes up one day and decides he doesn’t love his wife anymore. She hasn’t done anything wrong, he just wants out of the marriage, to travel and go to bed with whoever he pleases. How much sympathy would you have for him if he started whining when the pesky wife wouldn’t give him the divorce he wanted on the terms he wanted. Divorce is a difficult process when both parties are on board and live in the same city, let alone when one has skipped out of the country, leaving a completely confused spouse behind. Gilbert’s behaviour would receive scathing criticism had she been an Elliot, so I don’t see it as being particularly ’empowering’ just because she’s a woman. I didn’t have a lot of sympathy for Gilbert in the drawn-out nature of the divorce and how much she had to give up to make her husband go away, as I’d have no sympathy for a man doing the same thing to his wife.
Her travel experience are full of self-important indulgences, and it gets worse when she arrives in Bali. She’s incredibly condescending when describing her dealings with the locals, having a colonialist attitude, as if her presence was doing some great thing for the poor, uneducated natives. (I can’t help but wonder what the publicity did for Westerners seeking spiritual enlightenment, and which the Balinese preferred – them or us West Aussies going over for cheap, boozy holidays.)
I can see why this book was so popular, in the same way I can see what Fifty Shades of Grey is so popular, if you believe that Balinese Hinduism and erotica are new things that Gilbert and E.L. James invented. If you don’t, there are way better books on both subjects that you could be reading.