Sunday, April 20, 2008

Oh, it's on

Nyla Matuk doesn't care for Eat Pray Love.

"This is one of the worst books I've read. While Gilbert does admit that her journey of self-discovery was paid for through an advance from her publisher, the book is less than honest when it refuses to acknowledge that travel to foreign destinations is at best a temporary escape from one's own neuroses. Gilbert only skims the surface in her travels, and her tourist-like observations of local traditions in Italy, India and Bali are combined with simultaneous indifference to local poverty and with slightly condescending observations of the physiognomy of local ethnic groups."
Screeds like this put me in mind of a writer in residence at an area university years ago. Our man would hold forth on student and amateur poetry and prose submitted to him and when talent was not evident; he'd give it the attention it deserved and after a few pleasantries the writer would feel good about themselves and keep scribbling. The writer in residence could then concentrate his energies on really engaging (ie: beating to a pulp) work that was worthy of a thorough review.

Eat Pray Love is perhaps the pinnacle of the current fascination with memoir. I've blathered about this before and there's no point rehashing much.
To dump on Eat Pray Love for being shallow, dishonest, manipulative etc. is beside the point entirely. It's a memoir. Readers looking for weight, emotional honesty (from the author) and truth look to fiction.
Matuk piles on to the point where one wonders if she has some personal problem with Elizabeth Gilbert. If there was a "backlash" against the book, it's certainly been quiet, and certainly not reflected at the cash register. Additionally, it's not as though Gilbert's fiction hasn't won multiple awards, particularly Last American Man.
It looks from here that Matuk has just make a bunch of enemies for no good reason.

Posted by Dave


Shannon said...

I don't know, Dave... I was terrifically disappointed by Eat Pray Love as well. Having read a number of travel memoirs that were significantly deeper in one way or another recently, and having had this one recommended to me as a spiritually enlightening experience, I was troubled by just how exclusive and self-centred the actual text was. Perhaps if I'd picked it up in a different frame of mind....

If Gilbert had fictionalized her experience, she might have been able to take some liberties that made it a more enjoyable read, but surely even you, by far more of a bibliophile than I, can call that "enjoyable"?

- Shannon

nyla said...

Dear Dave,
I've seen a number of critiques of my critique that are similar to yours. I guess what I was getting at was not primarily that it was a shallow memoir, which it is, but that the popularity of such books says something about the culture generally. I wasn't trying to make enemies, just to point out that this kind of rubbish ought not to be published--it's what's wrong with the culture, as much wrong as reality TV or any other unthinking and useless inspection of lifestyle, as opposed to real introspection. Try to read Christopher Lasch, and you might understand why EPL is so very, very bad. As I say, what's worse is its immense popularity. Lots of people, entire book clubs, agree with my assessment. I look forward to hearing what Americans have to say, as the essay is being reprinted in an American newspaper shortly. It may be a screed, but every once in a while we need to be critical of mainstream culture, and not enough of us are.
I have nothing personal against Gilbert. I just despised the book. More critiques of it are in reviews on and at Those are the "backlashes" I was referring to.

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