As the Eat, Pray, Love movie approaches, female writers (memoir writers especially) get to take a break from swatting down Sex and the City comparisons and turn their wary gaze to Elizabeth Gilbert. Are self-deprecating personal growth stories necessarily a good thing? Is Gilbert the anti-Girl With the Dragon Tattoo? How should we all feel about Eat, Pray, Love‘s success, anyway?
Jessica Olien went to the heart of Eat, Pray, Love territory—Bali—and found herself pulling an Elizabeth Gilbert. Despite disdaining the “caftan-wearing women” who travel alongside her, Olien lives out their dream and finds romance with a Dutch man named Jorick. She and Jorick ride motorbikes through the island paradise and have lots of sex. Olien becomes “completely, embarrassingly Gilbert-like.” She comes to terms with this, however:
It is only when I arrive home that I fully comprehend the irony of the past month: Cynical writer goes to Bali to make fun of Elizabeth Gilbert wannabes only to become perhaps her closest emulator.
I feel stabs of guilt for being so harsh on those women, searching the island for their romantic bliss. Who am I to laugh at their longing? By all means, ladies, come to Bali, I want to tell anyone within smiling distance. Find a wonderful man in a wonderful place. But if I could tell those women one more thing, it would be that maybe they should stop looking so hard. Because if there’s a romantic cliché that’s held true — for Elizabeth Gilbert, and now, for me — it’s that bliss usually happens when you aren’t hunting it down.
She says she doesn’t expect a book deal out of her adventure, but she has gotten some mileage out of chronicling it online. Recently, she wrote for Jezebel about how Eat, Pray, Love “ruined” Bali.
On HuffPo, Lea Lane seems faintly irritated that Gilbert gets all the attention:
My book Solo Traveler came out in 2005, not long before Elizabeth Gilbert’s cult-inducing phenomenon. Like her, I wrote about the freedom and joys of traveling on your own, but emphasized I was not looking for love.
Besides selling reasonably well, my book spawned a website and a brand, and besides how-tos on eating alone and packing and such, included a couple dozen personal essays, including ones set in Italy, India and Bali. I can’t complain.
Well, if pressed, perhaps she can complain: turns out she too went to Bali all she got were bug bites. Her loins burned not with passion but with fire ants.
Final verdict: Eat, Pray… Sort of Like?