Friday 13 April 2018

Bunkum and claptrap

Veronika Decides to Die I'd already made up my mind about Paolo Coelho's book by the end of the first chapter, well before we learn that "Veronika [-] finished her studies, went to university, got a good degree, but ended up working as a librarian." This is not the sort of thing that endears an ex-librarian to a narrator.

Veronika Decides To Die is about a young Slovenian woman who tries to commit suicide but fails. She wakes up in La Villete mental institution in Ljubljana, where the action is mainly set, and is told she has only a few days to live. The story then deals with how Veronika's prognosis affects her and the other inmates.

Many years ago I read Coelho's blockbuster The Alchemist and remember wondering what all the fuss was about. My overriding memory was that it was very twee. Veronika Decides To Die has not improved my opinion of the author. It was full of bunkum and claptrap. The style left me cold because there was so little descriptive depth that I found it impossible to immerse myself in the story. It consists mainly of ensuring that I get the message by hitting me over the head with it. And it was a particularly worrying message. The author's thesis appears to be that people who suffer from mental health problems are not ill, they just want to live outside the accepted norms of society. According to the character Dr. Igor, the cure for these people is "an awareness of life" and the medication is "an awareness of death".

Coelho has said that "when you write a book, you use your experience", and in the Afterword he relates his own detention in a mental institution as a teenager. This was the best bit of the book because it is the most truthful. He has also said "if you overload your book with a lot of research, you are going to be very boring to yourself and to your reader. Books are not there to show how intelligent you are. Books are there to show your soul." I'm obviously not Coelho's target audience. I found this book very boring and thought it suffered from a lack of research. My preference is for intelligent writing, and I don't really care about the author's soul, which in Paolo Coelho's case seems to resemble an ego as big as a planet.

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