I bought a copy of this book a couple of years ago to send to a friend.  She told me that she’d had three copies that birthday.  The book had her name written all over it, but I didn’t think it was for me.  Then I heard that Julia Roberts was starring in a film of the book, and I found myself in a supermarket looking for a third book to complete my “3 for 2” offer on paperbacks.  I couldn’t see anything else I vaguely wanted so picked up a copy of Eat, Pray, Love.  And I’ve carted it around with me everywhere I’ve been since then.

It’s wonderfully written.  It’s easy to read, and in a format that allows you to drop it and pick it up again and not to have to remember the plot.  It’s thought provoking in the extreme.  It’s educating.  It’s funny.  It chimes on so many levels.  And it’s unlikely that many men will voluntarily read it.  The sub-title makes that almost a certainty.  I mean, what man is going to sit on a train reading a bookcalled “Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything”.

It’s not a perfect book.  The author doesn’t tell us enough about why she has had such disastrous relationships, and I don’t sense that she is brave enough to really try to find out why.  She glosses over her “happy” childhood, and what she did, or didn’t, learn in periods of therapy, and thinks a burst of existential angst aged nine was merely a symptom of her precociousness, arising out of nowhere.  And yet she wants us to believe that she is accessing higher spiritual levels as she gets to know herself more and more.  I am unconvinced, though interested in the parallels she draws between transcendental practices in so many world religions.

She writes this (elsewhere) about her upbringing:

“My folks had strong ideas about self-sufficiency, self-reliance and independence of every possible kind (financial, political, emotional).  We raised a lot of our own food, kept goats and chickens and bees, made a lot our own clothes, heated the house with our own firewood, and pretty much stayed away from the outside world’s influence. Which isn’t to say that our parents were hippies or hermits, but just that they created this very small, self-enclosed world on those few acres of Litchfield, and what happened on our little farm bore terribly faint resemblance to what happened outside it.

This factor alone means that my sister and I were both encouraged to think outside the box, because we lived outside the box, and watched our parents, every day, making choices that weren’t in line with their neighbors and peers. Maybe that kind of free-thinking (or even oppositional thinking!) is the birthplace of imagination?”

In an interview about a book she wrote earlier called Stern Men, about lobster fishermen in Maine, she says this:

“But my parents were somewhat quirky (my father, particularly) and I always felt that our family (my father’s family, specifically) were a cast of fairly unusual souls, who lived in a world that didn’t really look like anyone else’s world—and who were also big drinkers and creative cursers, just like many of the characters in the novel. I think I got an early taste for insular eccentrics, which has never really abated.”

It sounds to me as if her father was unlikely to have been very emotionally available, that Ms Gilbert would, as a result, have had an anxious attachment to him and would have been drawn in adult life to repeat that pattern by being attracted to avoidant men in relation to whom she soon became “needy” and “controlling” …

And then I begin to speculate about her relationship with her new husband, described in the third part of the book.  She doesn’t really need much encouragement to get it together with Felipe, an older man from Brazil.

“Later, Felipe would tell me how he had seen me that night.  He said that I seemed so young, not in the least bit resembling the self-assured woman he’d come to know in the daylight world.  He said I seemed terribly young but also open and excited and relieved to be recognised and so tired of being brave …”

The difficulties of reconciling her life plans with his situation soon raise their head and, a few pages further on, she asks:

“So what will become of me and Felipe?  Now that there is, it seems, a “me and Felipe”?  He told me not long ago, “Sometimes I wish you were a lost little girl and I could scoop you up and say, ‘Come and live with me now, let me take care of you forever.’  But you aren’t a lost little girl.  You’re a woman with a career, with ambition.  You are a perfect snail: you carry your home on your back.  You should hold on to that freedom for as long as possible.  But all I’m saying is this – if you want this Brazilian man, you can have him.  I’m yours already.”

I’m not sure what I want.  I do know that there is a part of me which has always wanted to hear a man say, “Let me take care of you forever,” and I have never heard it spoken before.  Over the last few years, I’d given up looking for that person, learned how to say this heartening sentence to myself, especially in times of fear.  But to hear it from someone else now, from someone who was speaking sincerely …”

Now, that all sounds very nice.  I’ve got that part inside me too, but I think I know where it comes from, and I’m not sure I should listen to it too much because I know that it’s a double-edged sword.  Yes, it’s wonderful to be looked after and nothing wrong with looking after people.  But it creates a vertical dynamic in a relationship – that of parent and child – which is all very well in times of crises and extreme need, but I am not sure that I wouldn’t chafe under such a dynamic if it was the dominant force in my relationship because most of the time I prefer to be an adult rather than a child and I am a bit sceptical about men who choose relationships with much younger women.  There’s too much potential for it to turn into a controlling relationship, and, ultimately she wants to be adored too much, to be Daddy’s Girl, and I hope he doesn’t get sick of the role that assigns to him too.

It’s interesting that the film of the book does away with an obvious age difference between the two main characters.  Julia Roberts is actually two years old than Javier Bardem who plays Felipe.  It makes the film a nice fantasy, somewhat different from reality, as fantasy always is.

This is another gem from Eat, Pray, Love, courtesy of Richard from Texas.

“But I wish me and David could—“
He cuts me off. “See, now that’s your problem. You’re wishin’ too much baby. You gotta stop wearing your wishbone where your backbone oughtta be.”
This line gives me the first laugh of the day.
Then I ask Richard, “So how long will it be before all this grieving passes?”
“You want an exact date?”
“Yes”
“Somethin’ you can circle on your calendar?”
“Yes”
“Lemme tell you something, Groceries – you got some serious control issues.”
My rage at this statement consumes me like fire. Control issues? ME? I actually consider slapping Richard for this insult. And then, from right down inside the intensity of my offended outrage comes the truth. The immediate, obvious, laughable truth.
He’s totally right.
The fire passes out of me, fast as it came.
“You’re totally right,” I say.
“I know I’m right, baby. Listen, you’re a powerful woman and you’re used to getting what you want out of life, and you didn’t get what you wanted in your last few relationships and it’s got you all jammed up. Your husband didn’t behave the way you wanted him to and David didn’t either. Life didn’t go your way for once. And nothing pisses off a control freak more than life not goin’ her way.”
“Don’t call me a control freak, please.”
“You have got control issues, Groceries. Come on, Nobody ever told you this before?”
(Well…yeah. But the thing about divorcing someone is that you kind of stop listening to all the mean stuff they say after a while.)
So I buck up and admit it. “OK, I think you’re probably right. Maybe I do have problem with control. It’s just weird that you noticed. Because I don’t think it’s that obvious on the surface. I mean – I bet most people can’t see my control issues when they first look at me.”
Richard from Texas laughs so hard he almost loses his toothpick.
“They can’t? Honey- Ray Charles could see your control issues!”
“Ok – I think I am done with this conversation now – thank you.”
“You gotta learn to let go, Groceries. Otherwise you are gonna make yourself sick. Never gonna have a good night’s sleep again. You’ll just toss and turn forever, beatin’ on yourself for being such a fiasco in life. What’s wrong with me? How come I screw up all my relationships? Why am I such a failure? Lemme guess- that’s probably what you were up at all hours doin’ to yourself again last night.”
“All right Richard, that’s enough,” I say. “I don’t want you walking around inside my head anymore.”
“Shut the door then,” says my big Texas Yogi.

[More from Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert]

Supplementary …

http://www2.macleans.ca/2010/01/21/pray-for-mr-ms-elizabeth-gilbert/

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