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Eat, Pray, Love - Elizabeth Gilbert

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Author: Elizabeth Gilbert / Format: Paperback / Genre: General /Title: Eat, Pray, Love / ISBN 13: 9781408809365 / ISBN 10: 1408809365 / 352 Pages / Book is published 2007-03-05 by Bloomsbury Publishing PLC / Alternative title: Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything / Alternative ISBN 10: 0747585660

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      15.04.2012 18:54

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      A heartening tale of one woman's search for life and love.

      If this is your usual sort of read you will probably enjoy this book. It flows easily and has a feel good factor running throughout the novel. It is not overly swamped by the spiritual aspects in the book it's just a little tedious. The subject matter, already covered by "Shirley Valentine", is one of woman in love , woman not in love, woman searching for herself, woman finds herself, woman in love, and so on.
      Having said that the actual descriptive sections are very nice and do evoke the sense of immersion in the various cultures, if somewhat shallow in content. Having travelled extensively through India and Indonesia, I was hoping to read some beautiful prose setting the scene for each section of the story, but they were rather too few and far between
      The characters are just a little unreal and a few "normal" folk sprinkled liberally within the text would have made the whole story a little bit more believable.
      It is still a pleasant read just not a stunning one.

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      05.11.2010 16:23
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      One woman's search for everything left me finding little of worth

      I have never been a spiritual person. Even in childhood, when I went to Sunday school, I never felt as if anything I was learning was anything other than ancient history. Faith is something other people have - and my attitude to that has always been to wish them well but say "it's not for me".

      I am also not a particularly deep thinking person. I have gone through counselling once in my life - 20 years ago when I had a nervous breakdown - but since then I have somehow managed to cope with life's slings and arrows without feeling the need to ask for therapy or to consider other options to help me get through tough times.

      Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat Pray Love is probably the polar opposite of me. I didn't know this until I read her book but now, having emerged from a very laboured time reading it, I am convinced of it.

      Gilbert comes from a middle-class and academic East Coast American background. A journalist by trade, she decided to take a year out following a divorce which she describes as "bitter" and travel to Italy, India and Indonesia. Luckily for Gilbert, she got an advance from a publishing house for her travels, and even more fortuitously, the resulting book became a bestseller.

      I started reading the book with high hopes - the film had just been released and the concept seemed an interesting one. Sadly for me, this book let me down - but perhaps I am to blame.

      ~~The Book~~

      Eat Pray Love is divided into three books and named for the three countries that Gilbert visited in her journey.

      Commencing with Italy, we learn how Gilbert wants out of her marriage and embarks on an affair which seems to cause her more emotional distress than the divorce. Gilbert doesn't name her husband and tries to keep things civil when discussing the divorce. She doesn't explain why she wanted to divorce him however - and one cannot help but think she never fully explained this to her husband either, and when she describes her divorce as "bitter" she really means the bitter party was her husband.

      When you are reading a memoir, it really does help if you get a scrap of something you find likeable about the author from early on, and I think my problems began when I found myself siding with her husband as she discussed how awful her divorce was. I actually had to stop and think about how I felt this way - and I realised it was because I had, within the first few chapters of the book, decided Gilbert was self obsessed in a way I really didn't like.

      Unsurprisingly then, the most readable part of her journey was in Italy.
      She decided to devote her stay in the country to two things - learning the language and pure pleasure. Having just come out of a post marriage love affair, her regret at being alone in a country which is renowned for romance and has such a romantic language is palpable, but she still manages to find pleasure in the people she meets and more importantly in the food she eats.

      The Italian chapter is probably the most colourful in bringing characters to life. Gilbert marvels in befriending a Roman man called Luca Spaghetti, revealing an almost childlike humour in meeting someone with such an obviously Italian name. Similarly she describes Giovanni, her language exchange partner very well and how they help each other learn their own mother tongues.

      Her biggest pleasure in Italy is definitely the food she eats. Some of the descriptions would work in a Marks & Spencer food advertisment (not the current ones with Caroline Quentin) perfectly for instance. She is clearly a huge foodie.

      She doesn't really discuss praying much there either. Praying to her in the Western world is more like talking to God. She clearly isn't a deeply religious person, but she clearly is a deeply spiritual woman.

      This gets taken up a step when she arrives in India - and this is where the book really started to flag for me.

      I have no real interest in eastern religion and reading much of what Gilbert has to say about her Guru and the Ashram that she stays at, one is struck by the fact the vast majority of followers are disaffected westerners, who are, of course, the prime source of income for the Ashram. My cynicism is another problem of course - I find I have been able to live my life into my mid forties without the need to find inner peace or learn more about myself - and reading about westerners discussing their desperation to find something - anything - in the Ashram, just left me cold.

      Gilbert's explanations and detailed passages about the history of the Ashram and the story of her Yogi just weren't particularly engaging either.

      Gilbert recounts in painful detail her chanting - she has to get up at an ungodly hour and chant for several hours every morning. Which is fine. It's just she admits it's boring - and as a result her descriptions of it are boring. Similarly she meditates a lot. Once again - fine. Just not something I would ever find riveting to read about.

      The strangest thing about her time in the Ashram is when your realise how few Indian people she interacts with. Only one is mentioned in much detail - she spends far more time talking about the westerners she meets and spends time with.

      The worst aspect of the Indian section however is a section when Gilbert describes a session of meditation where she insists she sees her husband and he "forgives" her for divorcing him. Now this may well have happened to her but after reading the section several times I just didn't buy it. If meditating gave her the forgiveness she craved from her husband then good luck to her, but my abiding sense was the only person she was kidding was herself.

      Gilbert's original plan had been to travel around India and I had been looking forward to a section which described the sights, sounds and flavours of the country - instead the India "book" was just bloated with her own neediness and neuroses as she decided to stay in the Ashram for the duration of her time in the country.

      So it was a blessed relief when Gilbert left and went to Bali in Indonesia for the final section of the book. This section was more light hearted and her friendship with an elderly medicine man is beautifully detailed, along with the beginnings of a new relationship which defines the third book as "Love".

      What isn't so detailed however is the sights to be seen in Bali - the focus tends to be more on the people Gilbert meets, leaving one wondering sometimes what makes Bali paradise for so many - especially for those who have never been.

      ~~Finally~~

      If you are a deep thinking, spiritual person, I would wager you will enjoy this book. If you are a hard hearted cynic like me, then there's an equally good chance you will not.

      I really found Eat Pray Love a hard book to enjoy, which I find a churlish thing to say because Elizabeth Gilbert is undoubtedly an extremely talented writer. She can describe people in particular in vivid detail for instance - but what she cannot do is disguise that in her search for everything, she comes across, to me at least, as someone who seems to need justification for almost everything she does as opposed to just accepting that sometimes life isn't going to deal you the right hand.

      After I finished the book it did enter my head that I probably am just the biggest philistine going and perhaps that would explain why I felt almost antagonistic towards Gilbert and her "search for everything" - either that or my working class background makes me view having to conduct such a search as a complete waste of time and money - especially if you have experienced first hand how fragile life can be.

      That is however a little unfair of me. We all have free will and should be able to indulge our passions and curiosities as we see fit and in that regard I do not begrudge Gilbert her year off, or her best selling book. So while she found herself, I sadly found her to be self absorbed, selfish in places and someone who really did need to be told a couple of times to get over herself and grow up. One can only hope that she did.

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        16.06.2010 14:15
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        The tour of the three Is in one year

        This book drew me in with its introduction- it's the tale of Elizabeth Gilbert's quest to find balance and peace in her life, and is divided up neatly into 108 short chapters. She explains that the structure took its inspiration from the 'japa malas' that yogis use in India, on which the Catholic rosaries are based. These have 108 beads, which is seen to be auspicious as the number 108 can be divided by three and its digits equal 9, another multiple of 3. In turn, the number three is supposed to represent supreme balance (she refers here to bar stools as a good example of this theory).

        Therefore, not only is the book divided into 108 short chapters, representing Gilbert's search for balance, but each of three sections is divided into 36 of these 108 chapters. The three sections represent the three stages of her journey in the year she's describing - 4 months in Italy, 4 in India and the final 4 in Indonesia.

        I have no idea why this flawlessly logical and mathematical layout appealed to me so much, as I tend to dislike anything like this. I suppose perhaps I liked having some idea of what to expect as I began reading.
        Essentially the plot really is just about Elizabeth Gilbert finding peace and contentment in her life, by travelling to Italy, India and Indonesia (the 3 I's, as she calls it), but it's also much more than that. She firstly takes us back to where the story began- when she was crying on her bathroom floor because she had turned 30 and was married and living in a big house with a man who wanted to start a family. She was deeply unhappy, as she was starting to realise that none of this was what she really wanted from her life, but that she also loved her husband and was afraid to leave him and everything they'd built up together. Then, as she began to pray for the first time, a wise voice told her 'go back to bed Liz.'

        This sets the tone for the book really; witty but with a serious tone too. Essentially, her need to find contentment comes down to needing spiritual enlightenment. While that idea might make some people squirm in their seats, myself included, she handles it very well, in that she manages to remain true to herself in the telling of her story, without bogging all her readers down in a lot of 'religious mumbo-jumbo.'

        Fortunately her very personal spiritual experiences, which are interesting for the most part, are not the sole focus of the book- she uses plenty of humour, meets lots of interesting characters and tells stories that we can all relate to in some way.

        Her purpose in visiting each country is evident from the book's title: the pasta shapes arranged into the word 'eat' represent her time in Rome where, by her own admission, she visited only one museum in her whole time there- the rest was spent piling on the calories in the form of truckloads of pasta, pizza and ice cream.

        Her trip to India involves her staying at an Ashram in order to pray, meditate and pray some more. She has to get up before dawn each day and also spends 5 hours of each day scrubbing floors as a symbol of her total and complete devotion.

        By the time she reaches Indonesia, where she had intended to find the balance between the pursuit of pleasure (represented by Italy) and the ability to retain inner peace (represented by her stay in India), she realises that she may be ready to love again.

        If you're looking for a travel book then I would suggest this is not the right book for you, although I have to say that I found her descriptions of Italy so appealing, I instantly went to look up the price of holidays there. Her descriptions of Bali also make it sound like a veritable paradise, and well worth an extended visit. However, this will mainly appeal to those of you out there who feel that they'd like to indulge in a bit of self-improvement themselves, in the form of calling a halt to the everyday anxieties and discontentment we all experience from time to time, if not on a daily basis, or to anyone who wonders whether there might be something more out there than purely the earth we live on. It's certainly made me wonder, so convincingly does Elizabeth Gilbert recall her experiences.

        Occasionally she is cringingly 'American,' and by that I mean that she has a habit of expressing her deepest emotions to all and sundry, and any fellow Americans she meets appear to respond in kind, by indulging her with some over-sentimentality of their own. I am referring here chiefly to an incident in which she tells her friend she'd like to get her husband to sign divorce papers, and her friend suggests they write a purely imaginary petition which anyone she likes can sign, supporting her in her wish. There follows a scene in which the two call out random names of anyone they think would support her, and her friend intermittently shouting 'Done! He / she just signed it!' Perhaps I'm just far too reserved and typically English to enjoy such a scene, but whatever the reason, I found it remarkably uncomfortable to read.

        Despite what I've said though, most of the book is just very interesting, insightful, witty and informative, and I would highly recommend it. In fact, I intend to waste very little time in ordering the sequel.

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          17.04.2010 09:09
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          still worth reading

          We all sometimes get lost, not only in forest or fog but also in our lives. So did Elizabeth Gilbert. Everything seemed perfect: she had a good job as a journalist, she has been married for eight years to a man she loved (and her long-time boyfriend) and they bought a beautiful house together in the suburbs of New York. Most of the people would think that there is one thing missing - a baby. Elizabeth was aware of this and yet one night she found herself crying on a bathroom floor, thinking that she needs to get out of this marriage as soon as possible.

          And so she does; the divorce is long and exhaustive (her husband doesn't want her to go I suppose), then she almost immediately gets involved in a passionate love affair instead of giving herself a little break that she needs. It is not surrpsing that all of this leads to a depression.

          So to cure her depression, she decides to travel. She wants go to Italy because she wants to learn Italian (Elizabeth Gilbert loves the sound of it), she also decides to visit India and Indonesia (she knows a guru there that she thinks will help her). She has no money but her publisher pays her in advance for 'Eat, Pray, Love' so she can take her gap year and do what she wants. She also decides that during that year she needs to live in a complete celibate.

          Gilert attends a language course in New York, then makes her dream come true and goes to Rome and learns Italian there as well. Then she drops out from her course, claiming that she will learn more from everyday conversations. She is right; and it is not surprising that she makes a lot of friends (she says that she isn't good at doing research about the places but she can make friends easily). The way she portrays Italy makes me think that it is a very nice, warm and relaxing place where people are friendly, the food delicious and the language sounds so lovely that I actually want to learn it myself! I have never been to Italy but thanks to Gilbert I am planning to visit this country myself at some point.

          After four months she travels to India. She hopes to find spiritual peace and she prays a lot. She meditates and tries to find herself nearer to God. I must say that I personally found this part of the book most boring; I think that in the prayers she described there was perhaps some spirit missing. It also may be because I have never been to India and I also relate her way of trying to find God to Christianity and it seems quite different (and maybe vague) to what I have been taught.

          Then she goes to Bali where she has been before as a journalist. She finds herself a guru and whereas he helps her, she tries to teach him English. The man is quite old and I think that here the cultural difference between Gilbert and her guru (and perhaps other people here) is very clear; it is also leading to quite a few funny situations. Again, Elizabeth makes a lot of friends here.

          The book is written in a very witty way; you can also tell that Elizabeth Gilbert is an intelligent, well-educated woman and she can definitely write something that is easy and pleasure to read. The only thing is that I was sort of hoping I would find a solution to my own problems or the way to tackle them from 'Eat, Pray, Love' and even though I followed Gilbert's path carefully, I haven't. I guess I need to find my own way (or read something different) but I still think that this book is a good holiday read.

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            01.03.2010 22:48
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            good and easy to read, yet offers interesting views on a different world,

            I initially decided to buy this book after reading several positive reviews about it and it seemed like the perfect book for summer holidays, nothing too serious and a girly read!

            This book was definitely an easy read, and this is because the style of the writer is very informal. Despite this, the book had hidden depths which were inspiring and eye opening, such as the authors well expressed philosophical and religious experiences.

            The book follows one woman's quest to rebuild herself as she embarks on a somewhat cliched journey to 'find herself' following the breakdown of her marriage. This autobiographical book follows her around the world as she discovers a renewed passion for food in Italy (a real pleasure to read for anyone interested in food!) and onwards to discover the spiritual and eventually love in more exotic countires. This offers a honest and personal representation of a westener's view of eastern religion such as the art of mediation and Gilbert's honesty is both constant and refreshing.

            This book is at times slow moving and this mirrors the author's own frustrations at not being able to discover her true self, but it is still an interesting summer read, which I would recommend.

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              15.11.2009 12:16
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              I've just finished reading Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert so decided I would write a little review of it here. I really enjoyed this book, although it took me quite a few chapters to get into it and at the beginning I thought I was going to hate it.

              Eat, Pray, Love is a book written by a woman at the end of her rope. It's an autobiographical story about Elizabeth Gilbert's journey to heal herself after a messy divorce and then the subsequent breakup of a very intense rebound relationship. After these events in her life, Gilbert is left with no money (her ex-husband took it all, apparently), completely heartbroken, on anti-depressants, and barely able to function. So she decides on a radical approach to finding happiness.

              Already a successful author, Gilbert approaches her publisher about a book idea - she will travel to Italy, India, and Indonesia, staying in each country for four months and trying to find ways of solving her problems and finding happiness in each one. The first country, Italy, she seeks comfort through food - this is the "Eat" part of the book. In India, she goes to "Pray" at an ashram, staying there for the entire 4 months (although she had originally planned to travel around India while she was there). The last four months are dedicated to "Love" when she goes to Indonesia to study with a medicine man and ends up meeting a couple of other people who will have a lasting influence on her life.

              I started out this book feeling that I was really going to dislike Elizabeth Gilbert. Her writing style struck me as extremely self-indulgent as everything was about me, me, me. I suppose this is natural in an autobiography - however she really took this to an extreme and instead of offering up insights into her experiences she spent so much time in the beginning of the book talking about her own personality traits, whining about how hard her life had been recently, and bragging about all her cool friends and the amazing lifestyle she had had. This was very offputting as you might imagine. Still, I stuck with it.

              I enjoyed the section on Italy quite well just because it was fun to read about all the delicious food she sampled and I also took pleasure in the way she discovered Rome for herself and described it in a fairly childlike way. But still she was in places very annoyingly self-indulgent. For example, she says when she goes to Sicily "I don't want to insult anyone by drawing too much of a comparison between myself and the long-suffering Sicilian people." I mean, oh, please, get over yourself. When it comes down to it, Gilbert is a fairly spoiled woman who has the ability to travel the world and do whatever she wants with her life. Yes she had some setbacks but for her to compare herself with a truly downtrodden group of people is a bit rich! Still, though, I plodded on.

              For me the book improved a bit when we got to the section on India. In the ashram, it seems like Gilbert's personality toned itself down a little bit as she struggled to keep to the grueling routine of the place, getting up at 4am to meditate and pray for hours before even having breakfast. It was at this point in the book I felt Gilbert really started to question herself and started to look outside herself at ways she could also help others. At one point she considered a vow of silence, only to be assigned to the job of welcoming groups of visitors to the Ashram. I really liked this part of the book as Gilbert learned she didn't need to change who she was to improve herself but just channel her natural energies towards other people.

              After leaving the Ashram in India, Gilbert travelled to Indonesia to see her medicine man again. This medicine man had met her before and had told her that she would come back one day to teach him English. She took this as a prophesy and really did go back, only to find the medicine man didn't remember her! Still, she spent a good deal of time with him and with another healer, a woman named Wayan who was a single mother having a hard time. Gilbert ended up asking all her friends for donations and was able to raise enough money to buy this woman a house! This was the most amazing part of the book and it's what made me realise that Gilbert had learned so much on her journey. From being someone who was frankly very self-obsessed, as perhaps we all are during the most difficult times in our lives, to someone so generous as to enable another woman to buy a house for herself and her children was absolutely amazing.

              As I read Gilbert's book I felt I was constantly comparing her to another writer, Isabel Losada. Losada wrote several books including my favourite, "A Beginner's Guide to Changing the World - for Tibet, with Love." She has a similar writing style to Gilbert in that she is a young woman who is seeking to understand herself better and who travels to exotic places to do so, but unlike Gilbert, Losada's journey was selfless from the beginning, as the whole point of her book was to discover what she could do to help the Tibetan cause. If you like Gilbert, I think you will love Losada.

              I do recommend Eat, Pray, Love, because there are some very interesting bits, particularly about Balinese culture where she really seems to immerse herself. And I do feel Gilbert was brave and honest in writing this book. Still, it isn't one of my favourite books that I have ever read but an enjoyable and relaxing book nonetheless.

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                21.03.2009 14:16
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                a woman's quest for love and harmony

                Elizabeth (Liz) Gilbert has it all: at the age of 31 she's already published three books, is an acknowledged journalist, popular with her friends, married for eight years to her long-term boyfriend, co-owner of a nice house in the suburbs of New York. The next item on the list is a baby. Yet, one night she finds herself crying and praying on the bathroom floor, she suddenly knows that she has to get out of the marriage and that a baby is out of the question. The divorce is a long, contentious affair and the passionate love-affair she begins during that time leads to a suicidal depression.

                She loves the sound of the Italian language and wants to learn it so that she can converse freely. This is an exotic wish for someone who's born into the world language No 1, why should an American learn a foreign language that's spoken only in one country on the planet? - She knows an Indian guru whose teachings she follows in a circle of devotees in New York. - A journalistic assignment takes her to the island of Bali where she meets an old medicine man who tells her she'll be back, learn his craft and teach him English.

                What have all these events to do with each other? In order not to go under Liz decides to take one year as time out, she divides it orderly into three parts: four months in Italy, four months in India and four months on Bali. "I wanted to explore one aspect of myself set against the backdrop of each country, in a place that has traditionally done that one thing very well," she writes. "I wanted to explore the art of pleasure in Italy, the art of devotion in India and, in Indonesia, the art of balancing the two." She lost nearly all her money in the divorce process but got an advance on the book she'd write. Eat, Pray, Love is the autobiographic account of this year abroad.

                Liz Gilbert claims that her travelling skills are meagre, she's tall and blonde, doesn't blend well physically in most places (certainly not in the countries she intends to visit), she's lazy on research and prone to digestive woes. "But my one mighty travel talent is that I can make friends with anybody. I can make friends with the dead..."

                She takes a room in Rome, attends a language course, but drops out when she's learnt the basics as she thinks she can learn more by talking to people directly. Not surprisingly, it doesn't take long until she's accumulated a great circle of friends. She's in *Rome*, do we also read something about culture trips? I was dumbfounded, in four months she only visits the Pasta Museum! (an exhibition of noodles?) What does she do then all day long besides chatting up the locals? She eats! She gains 23 pounds in four months. She approaches people in the street, asks them where they'd advise her to eat and then has the most delicious meals on her own in no-name, hidden trattorias.

                I really liked this part of the book, this was enhanced by the fact that Liz mentions many places I know from my travels, for example she ate in the same pizzeria in Naples I went to. I sent a message to an online friend of mine who likes travelogues, I told her to read the synopsis of the book on Amazon and order it at once, I was sure she'd love it. She was cautious, though, she obviously read more out of the description of the following part than I had done, she wanted to wait for my judgement.

                Liz' next stop is an Ashram in India where she hopes to find enlightenment and spiritual peace for her troubled mind through meditation and she wants to get nearer to God. One critic writes, "... surprisingly, the Pray section turns out to be the most interesting part." 'One man's meat is the other man's poison' is all I can say. The post-modern literary concept of 'each reader reads their own book' comes to mind. This is all so not me! Liz quotes an American friend, "...there's a part of me that so wishes I wanted to do that . . . But I really have no desire for it whatsoever." I can go a step further: there is *no* part of me that so wishes I wanted to do that. Mind you, I don't feel guilty and have no qualms of conscience about that; you can call me shallow if you like, you're welcome. - And I feel cheated as a reader, first Liz tells us that she wants to stay in the Ashram for six weeks only and then travel through India but she stays there for all four months!

                So the middle section flops for me? Here I have to say something about the style. Liz Gilbert is a wonderful writer, she knows the language well, she's educated, witty, funny, ironical, she can pull her own leg. It doesn't really matter what she describes, reading her is a pleasure. I'll always remember her two-hour long meditation practise outside in the garden of the Ashram on a bench when the sun goes and the mosquitoes come, heehee.

                When her time in India is over, she's already found the balance she wanted to look for in Bali. This means she's not so engrossed in her own problems any more, she can now fully concentrate on other people. She finds dear friends, besides the medicine man she befriends a local woman and her daughters, they become her ersatz family away from home. "Is there no man in Liz' life?" you may wonder. She vowed to stay celibate when she set out on her journey, she had had it with men, but there is a fascinating specimen in Bali who makes her forget her vows. The outlook for her future? A transcontinental love life covering America, Australia, Bali and Brazil; A A B B, for her the perfect harmony.

                This brings me to the end: who is the book for, who are the target readers? According to a review on an American site 'the entire female American population'. (The book is a mega best-seller in the USA, Ms Oprah invited Liz Gilbert twice to her show) The writer goes on 'This book has had the power to change many lives, including my friends' and my own.' Indeedy, I'm impressed. So all American women feeling that they have to break out of their lives have the opportunity and the financial means to spend a year abroad to find themselves and when they've done so, live in a relationship spanning the globe? A (German) neighbour of ours suffering from depression and panic attacks has made it only to the psychiatric ward of the nearest hospital, no publisher will be interested in what she has to say afterwards.

                You have to be Liz Gilbert to live like Liz Gilbert! If you keep this in mind and read the book as *her* account and not a manual to follow, then you're in for a good read.

                ---

                Penguin
                352 pages
                RRP 7.99 GBP

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