I didn't hate Eat, Pray, Love, but it left me really unsatisfied. When I first started reading the book, I couldn't help rolling my eyes and thinking "Here we go, another tale of a precious, privileged woman who is unsatisfied with her life." I stuck with it though and was charmed through the Italy section by Gilbert's humor and down-to-earth writing style. Still, for a woman who abandons everything in search of a true spiritual experience, she leaves most of the important questions unanswered. I felt that Gilbert projects herself so strongly onto every place and every person she encounters that I'm not sure what she really learnt along the way.
As delightful as the Italy section was to read, I felt like she never really stepped out of herself to understand the country on its own terms and to move beyond the stereotype. Despite it being a bit of a superficial assessment, I have no problem with Gilbert associating Italy with pleasure. There is enough beauty there to warrant it.It was more her interpretation of what it means to open oneself to pleasure that bothered me and seemed very narrow. For Gilbert this consisted mostly of overindulging in foods and allowing herself to put on weight. It seemed like she came to Italy thinking she already knew how to experience pleasure and proceeded to enact it based on her definition (even though there are indications that the Italian interpretation of pleasure is not merely restricted to this.) I would have liked to see her explore what it meant to devote herself to pleasure just as seriously and reverently as she seemed to take the meditative experiences in India.
Overall though, my biggest problem with this book was I had difficulty at times believing Gilbert achieved the enlightenment she talks about because she is so internally focused. Most importantly I still have not really grasped why it was necessary for her to travel to these 3 places.
I understand that her intention was not for this book to be a travelogue but it begs the question, "Why was it necessary to go to Italy, India and Indonesia if the purpose was to not to gain something from them that could not be found elsewhere?" In every country Gilbert created a little security blanket of expat friends who seemed to cushion her from really understanding the lessons the countries had to offer on their own terms. Why go to India to meet Richard the big Texan Guru, for example? Why not just go to Texas?
For those of us with "eyelids only half-caked with dirt" but who can't uproot our lives and travel to countries of our choosing is "enlightenment" still an option? I wanted Gilbert to talk more about how anyone with an ordinary life but who is searching for insight could still balance spiritual yearning with duty.
And that's my final peeve about this book. I wondered if Gilbert had any sense of duty or sense of obligation to anything beyond herself. Gilbert seems to recognize the bonds of duty that restrict the locals she encounters. Yet, she somehow paints them as pleasurable or inevitable yokes for the people who bear them. Her detached observations of life and death rituals in India and Indonesia as though they are restricted to those parts of the world made me want to shake her and say "but there are rituals everywhere; you have made a conscious decision to remove yourself from the ones you know."