Friday, November 10, 2006

Review of The Alchemist

Feel good about The Alchemist

Firstly, I'd like to say that I am not a fan of writing reviews. I'm a fan of reading them, but I never want to have to make a living from having to write them. "Too much like hard work." (Thus can the limits of my life's achievements be understood. Lol.)

No, I'm writing this review as it's an exercise in understanding writing. In fact, I have a sheet of paper with several questions on it that I meant to answer and maybe for the next novel I read (London Fields) I shall answer them.

The questions are:
  • What did I like most [about the book]?
  • What did I like least?
  • What about the author's style & characters?
  • How did the author achieve tension?
  • To what extent did the author force you to use your own imagination?
  • Did the chapter move me, make me laugh, bore me, excite me?
  • Would I read it again? [Note: YES, absolutely.]
  • What about typos, grammar, etc.?
To answer these questions with respect to Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist would be like trying to explain why the early morning sunset looks magnificent and life-affirming, or why the sound of your favourite piece of music (think of Mozart, The Beatles, Robbie Williams or whoever can be relied upon to 'float your boat') moves you so much. Quite simply, to do so would break the spell.

The Alchemist is a little piece of magic, of making believe that you can have control over your life if you look for, and act on, the signs.

To quote Santiago, the hero of the story, "It's true; life really is generous to those who pursue their destiny". Santiago, probably like all of us at some point in our lives, goes on a journey to seek out the 'treasure' only to find that it was [spoiler warning!] located at the start of his journey all along.

Coelho's language is simple -- it was translated (from Spanish, presumably) by Alan R. Clarke -- and everything that happens in the story has a purpose. For me, it was a classic page-turner and I do not use that term lightly.

I guess the novel appeals to my 'feel good about the world' nature (a little like Amelie, the film, does too).

I will always enjoy stories like this. I do think it's a 'proper novel' too, and not just a collection of words loosely arranged to chime with the current zeitgeist. (I'm thinking about The Celestine Prophecy, here which, whilst I enjoyed reading it, jarred with me on several occasions from a writer's perspective. I thought it was quite badly written, actually, whereas The Alchemist is written well enough to charm so that you almost don't notice the words.)

I know that not everyone is as enthralled with Coelho's world and Coelho's words. Perhaps because they think it's all 'new age tosh'; who knows.

Anyway, I'm rambling. I'm not, and never will be, a writer of book reviews.

What I took from this novel was the notion of searching, of seeking truth and of finding it in the last place you looked. I know. That last statement will always be true - no one looks for something once they have found it! But still it reminds me that sometimes people look for joy, for happiness, for love etc. everywhere but in the one place they will find it: in themselves.

I can use this notion in my next (first) novel, for sure.

To finish this non-review with, here's a short passage from the book I particularly liked:

'The alchemist said, "No matter what he does, every person on earth plays a central role in the history of the world. And normally he doesn't know it."'

(Just imagine what it would be like if he (or she) did know it.)

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