Sunday 21 January 2018

Eat, Pray, Love, Flog? The $350m self-help craze sweeping women off their feet

Catherine Murphy asks if the book that's become a global phenomenon is worth all the hype

Catherine Murphy

So, there's this New York-based writer who travels a lot for work but doesn't quite discover herself along the way. She plays it safe in her twenties, gets married, goes to all the right dinner parties.

In her early thirties, she realises she's not in love with her husband, goes through a messy, costly divorce and hits the road for a year.

She goes to Italy, India and Bali. It's a gap year, a well-worn path trodden by thousands of men and women annually. Except that author Liz Gilbert plans it all very cleverly and returns from her voyage of self-discovery to produce the memoir that is Eat, Pray, Love, or "one woman's search for everything".

Gilbert's memoir is now a $350m franchise encompassing book sales of nine million, a Julia Roberts movie and products that range from yoga mats to kaftans and lip gloss.

Through methodical marketing, Eat, Pray, Love has become Eat, Pray, Love, Flog, tapping into single, thirty-something womens' never-ending search for whatever it is that's important.

Out is SATC's sartorial and sexual hedonism; in is finding yourself in an Ashram, practising yoga and meeting the right man.

EPL is being talked about at dinner parties and passed enthusiastically between female friends with the assertion that they "will love this book". The movie is being heralded as a Hollywood move away from "true love" chick flicks to "self-love" therapy films which act as a catharsis for viewers suffering everything from mid-life crisis to guilt or trauma.

Experts say cinema therapy can work better than talking therapy (and is cheaper) because the cinema-goer is open to the story they're about to see, identifies with the characters and finds optimism in their own situation.

Think Shirley Valentine for bored married women; Lost In Translation for men in mid-life crisis; or It's A Wonderful Life for those who need some life-affirming.

EPL's self-help, self-discovery themes are as old as the hills but a generation of yoga-lovers are sucking it up like it never existed before. More than one sceptical female journalist has been given the task of slating it, only to find herself falling for its message.

For the more curmudgeonly among us, Eat Pray Love screams "cliché". Our glasses are half-empty; Liz Gilbert's is overflowing. Apart from eating her way around Rome and praying herself into a trance at an Ashram in India, she also got to fall in love with a Brazilian man in Bali.

For anyone who doesn't believe in fairytale endings, the film is cringe-making, an overplayed, uninspiring, superficial slice of Hollywood in which Julia Roberts' (as Liz Gilbert) deepest moments appear to involve eating a plate of spaghetti, stroking an elephant's tusk and discovering tequila at a Bali beach bar.

But the 'Liz Gilbert effect' continues to gather pace. American women post messages on online forums like "Liz Gilbert is my twin separated at birth, the universe sent her to me".

They yearn to be like her, they want to practise yoga with her, visit the same Ashram that she spent three months in, eat pizza in the same restaurant she found in Rome. She's 'everywoman' and a lot of women want her to be their best friend.

The book has proved less popular with men and more cynical souls who resist its American cheesiness.

They're calling it Bridget Jones without the laughs. Some Irish readers have criticised both the book and film for being over-long and for setting up the dreamy, fairytale notion that love, yet again, conquers all.

"She gets to travel to all these places, how dreamy is that?' says one reader. "She then meets this really lovely man and they meet up in lots of different places.

"It's almost too good to be true. She has the best time on her travels; it all seems a bit too easy".

But surely nine million readers can't be wrong?

Perhaps the cynical among us are just jealous of Gilbert's good fortune; of her bravery and success in travelling alone for a year; the fact that she was able to turn her life around and was equipped with the upbringing and skills to do so.

Irish Independent

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