Published: Riverhead/Penguin, 2007
Genre: Travel, memoir
My rating: 2/5 stars
Description: “In her early thirties, Elizabeth Gilbert had everything a modern American woman was supposed to want–husband, country home, successful career–but instead of feeling happy and fulfilled, she felt consumed by panic and confusion. This wise and rapturous book is the story of how she left behind all these outward marks of success, and of what she found in their place. Following a divorce and a crushing depression, Gilbert set out to examine three different aspects of her nature, set against the backdrop of three different cultures: pleasure in Italy, devotion in India, and on the Indonesian island of Bali, a balance between worldly enjoyment and divine transcendence.” (Goodreads)
Why I picked it up: I always get really intrigued by famous or popular books so when I spotted this one at a big book sale I decided to snag it. I finally decided to give it a read on my road trip this summer because I thought it’d be fitting as it’s a travel book.
I didn’t finish it on that road trip. In fact, I barely read it on that road trip. I didn’t even end up finishing it until over a month later. Disappointingly, I really struggled through this one.
I don’t know Elizabeth Gilbert in real life. I don’t know anything about her that she didn’t put in this novel and I have no idea what kind of person she is. But I couldn’t help but get irritated with her throughout the course of this novel. I feel a little bad saying this, but the majority of it felt like complaining to me. Divorce sucks. Depression sucks. Feeling lost in life sucks. Struggling with relationships and yourself at the same time? Sucks. But when I pick up a travel piece. I expect to read about all of the interesting places you visit and the different people you meet. Gilbert was gone a whole year and I feel like I barely got to learn about what she really experienced.
I understand that you can’t separate your personal life and experiences from the story you’re telling in a memoir. I understand Gilbert’s struggles in her personal life were directly related to her desire to travel to the places she did. But there are only so many times I wanted to read about her ex-husband her ex-boyfriend. I know all of these problems are very real problems. I know they were devastating to her at the time, and her whole world centered around them. It just didn’t translate very well in writing. The most interesting parts of the book were when she was talking about her traveling experiences and the bonds she was forming with all of the new people she met.
I felt like the book was really dry at times. There were chapters where Gilbert when on and on about her ex-husband (kind of like me right now, actually) or her life falling apart. Again, very important to her. To the reader, not so much. Then there were some parts she did talk about her traveling experiences but they were over-detailed, drawn out, and long. The book really lacked balance. A little bit of both would be great. Too much of either was just that – too much. I would have liked a variety of those different travel experiences instead of three or four chapters that gave us a crazily detailed explanation of one experience.
What really kept me going was the fact that the things she experienced during her year traveling were interesting. In a way I did feel like I got to walk alongside her and talk to these people with her. I just wish it had felt like that for the majority of the book, not just every once in a while. And I did want good things for her. I wanted her to get better. I wanted her to find love and friendship again. I wanted her to overcome depression. I wanted her to find her spirituality. I wanted her to be a happier, stronger version of herself in the end.
Quotes I enjoyed:
“When you’re lost in those woods, it sometimes takes you a while to realize you are lost. For the longest time, you can convince yourself you’ve just wandered a few feet off the path, that you’ll find your way back to the trail head any moment now.”
“So be lonely. Learn your way around loneliness. Make a map of it. Sit with it, for once in your life.
“Do you think there’s any way humans can love each other without complications?”