When people would ask me what books I was reading for my classes this semester, I would rattle off some of the names like Potiki and Love and Longing in Bombay, knowing full well that no one had ever heard of these novels before. I even remember one person, a gifted and dutiful reader in his own right, looking at a few books spread out across my bed and muttering ‘Good Luck’.
Then I would inevitably get to Eat, Pray, Love only to see almost every person’s face light up with emotion. Most people, most girls in fact, talked about how much they loved the book, and how I, knowing virtually nothing about what kind of books I like, would absolutely love it. In fact, I don’t think I met one person who gave it a bad review. Therefore, experiencing this kind of reception of the book, although proceeding precariously, I was anxious to begin reading. I must say, it wasn’t quite exactly what I expected.
A lot of people, from what I’ve heard in class and read in blogs, feel that Liz was too whiny and too selfish for them to identify with. This wasn’t a problem for me. This may be more of a reflection on me than perhaps I would like it to be but I didn’t find Liz’s actions to be out of line at all. Yes, I suppose by standard definition she did act selfishly, and although I do buy her actions were a form of self-preservation, I do think she tends to dramatize the truth (of course I must acknowledge that she openly admits her sensitivity, which always seems to lead to dramatization in one way or another).
But I’m not hung up on her selfishness as something that she is doing wrong. If you don’t love someone, and aren’t happy in a relationship than it is your duty to fix it or get out of it. Unfortunately you may break hearts along the way, even hearts of people you deeply care for, but ultimately you are doing yourself and your partner an injustice by hanging on to a relationship that is devoid of true love. Yes this can be construed as selfish but if you aren’t looking out for your best interests than who is? You could spend your life living for other people, knowing the whole while your unending misery or you could live for yourself. People may say they know what is best for you, but as Gilbert teaches sometimes we don’t even know what is best for ourselves, and who knows us better than ourselves?
Although I found myself disconnected from Liz in a lot of ways, this is one thing I whole-heartedly agree with her about. As for the writing style and the narrative action of the novel itself, I found it to be lacking when compared to many of the other books we read. I guess it is unfair to compare, given each book is blessed with it’s own unique style, but what I suppose I’m getting at is Gilbert’s voice, although beautifully distinct and at times unable to disengage, didn’t really speak to me on an emotional level. Other writers may have had an unfair advantage, as they were able to offer up insights into deep and rich cultural histories of exotic far away places. Stories that are so uniquely beautiful and so incredibly tragic that it is almost impossible not to be captivated by them. All Gilbert has to offer up, and this is not meant to be an insult at all, is her own self-experience. It’s difficult for the experience of one to compete with the experience of an entire culture.
I guess what this has become is a general justification of why the other novels had more affect on me than Eat, Pray, Love, but I do understand its purpose on the syllabus. All semester long we have read insights into foreign cultures, and one conclusion that pops up in all of out discussions is the idea that home lies within the self. Gilbert’s novel teaches us just that. Gilbert is a gifted self explorer, and her novel teaches all of us the importance of self-exploration. One thing we have to keep in mind while reading is that in many ways the novel itself is selfish. Although its success is well known and influence wide-spread it is, and always will be, uniquely and truly Gilbert's. She didn’t write it for us, she wrote it for her. She even says in the novel that she used the book to escape and find herself, to save her own soul. People that follow her path miss the point of the entire novel. Gilbert isn’t calling you to follow her, she is calling you to follow yourself and find what is inside you that makes you who you are.