Eat, Pray, Love: Please don't devour this magical memoir

Is there anything worse than a bad film adaptation of your favourite book? Rebecca Armstrong frets over 'Eat, Pray, Love'

To the soaring vocals of Florence + the Machine, the trailer shows a flaxen-haired Julia Roberts seeing her love life crumble, exploring far-flung countries and having her palm read by a Balinese gent. "I just want to go someplace to marvel at something," she cries. Released this Friday, the film Eat, Pray, Love marks Roberts's return to the big screen after scaling back her acting to concentrate on her family. It also marks an experience all too familiar to bookworms – the sinking feeling that comes with learning that your favourite book has been given the Hollywood treatment.

I picked up a copy of Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love at work, where a publisher's proof was languishing on a pile of discarded paperbacks. It was the story of a thirtysomething woman who walks out on her husband and goes on a journey of self-discovery in Italy (where she gets over her divorce by eating), India (ditto, but with yoga) and Bali (where she gets over her last man by getting under another). It smacked of chick-lit, but I was intrigued by the sound of the "Pray" section, where Gilbert stays in an Indian ashram and learns to meditate. I started reading and, like millions of other people who subsequently sent Gilbert's book to the top of the bestseller charts, fell hook, line and sinker for a writer who opened her heart and her life on the page in front of me.

That's not to say that Gilbert's memoir is perfect, nor that its narrator isn't sometimes breathtakingly self-obsessed. And as for finding love in the final third? Lady, I know you warned me in the title, but still, did you have to be such a cliché? Despite this, I love Eat, Pray, Love. I like the way Gilbert writes about heartbreak and adventure, but it's how she captures her experiences of meditation, with humour and humility, that for me, makes her book sing. Five years on, it's still something I dip into and I've lost count of how many people I've recommended it to.

But having stumbled upon it, I feel, erroneously, that Eat, Pray, Love is my personal property. That if I ever met Liz at a cocktail party we would get on like a house on fire. Of course, that's part of its appeal – why else would millions of other readers have snapped it up? Why else, for goodness' sake, would it have been turned into a film in the first place? But now Elizabeth Gilbert, MY Elizabeth Gilbert, is being played by Julia Roberts. And what if she comes across badly? The book I've spent years pushing to friends will be turned into Bridget Jones with a few sun salutations thrown in – and that will reflect pretty badly on me and my taste in reading material.

Pitch-perfect descriptions of meditation don't bob up very regularly in bestsellers and I am sceptical that they can be woven skilfully into a big-budget motion picture. And the murky tales of costly merchandise and tie-in holidays based on the film that have hit the papers recently leave a bad taste in my mouth. The book, after all, is as much about giving up the trappings of wealth (a sample quote from the trailer sees a Balinese wise man telling our heroine "you will lose all your money") as it is finding a soulmate.

Maybe it will be OK, I tell myself. Maybe the film will be good. Maybe I will still be able to read Eat, Pray, Love and not picture Julia Roberts rather than Elizabeth Gilbert. But with the film looming, I'm reminded of the adaptations of two books that I love, I Capture the Castle and Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day. While neither were big-screen disasters, they didn't capture the charms of the books on which they were based, nor the hearts of the cinema-going public.



'Eat, Pray, Love' goes on nationwide release on Friday

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
A waxwork of Jane Austen has been unveiled at The Jane Austen Centre in Bath

books
Arts and Entertainment
Britney Spears has been caught singing without Auto-Tune

music
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Caral Barat of The Libertines performs on stage at British Summer Time Festival at Hyde Park

music
Arts and Entertainment
Ariana Grande and Iggy Azalea perform on stage at the Billboard Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Zina Saro-Wiwa

art
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice