It was with cynicism that I undertook to read this novel, lent to me by a friend, as its cover, blurb and very appearance shouted ‘chick-lit’, a genre that I (snobbishly) cannot swallow. There are, after all, only so many versions of ‘Brigid Jones’-type, self-obsessed, shoe-and-bag-devotee books one can read! But guaranteed that I’d love this book (?!), I decided to give it a go.
It’s written by Elisabeth Gilbert, about a year in her life wherein she begins a journey of self-exploration by living out some of her dreams in an effort to find meaning and worth in her life after a painful and messy divorce. She divides this journey into thirds: one third in Italy, eating pasta, gelato and learning Italian; one third in an ashram in India, where she practices meditation on a daily basis under the guidance of a spiritual guru; and she spends the final third in Bali, where she returns to stay with a medicine man named Ketut, whom she briefly met on a previous visit, and who teaches her a different form of meditation. Now how she was lucky enough to get funding from her publisher to spend this year travelling and ‘finding herself’, I’d like to know! But such was the case, and in fairness, the book that she wrote, based on her experiences validated the funding.
The structure was based on japa mala, beads used by Buddhists and Hindis, strung with 108 beads to keep them focused during meditation. She thus divides the three sections of her book into 36 parts, adding up to the total 108.
My strongest impression of this book was its honesty, which I believe is the most important end of any writer. The author unashamedly confesses all, and draws you unwittingly close to her, as though a confidante or very close friend. She encounters some flashes of spiritual joy and insight, which she does her best to share. These are sometimes effective, but often clumsy, her colloquial writing style and hyperbole often rendering extreme feelings trite and trivial. When describing the meditation in which she witnessed God, she says: “I got pulled through the wormhole of the Absolute, and in that rush, I suddenly understood the workings of the universe completely”. (Completely?!)
On the whole though, this is a very readable, quite insightful book, and by the end, I found myself wishing her well as she ‘got on’ with her life. She trustingly revealed her vulnerablities and exuberantly described her recovery and growth, and as such, I feel for her, in a protective, but a hopeful sort of way.