Bopping with Niall JP O'Leary

Niall O'Leary insists on sharing his hare-brained notions and hysterical emotions. Personal obsessions with cinema, literature, food and alcohol feature regularly.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Alchemist

Paulo Coelho's 'The Alchemist' is a book I used to see everywhere; on buses, on park benches, wherever there was a casual reader, there was that cover. I had the opportunity to read it last week and did so. Was it gold?
A young shepherd goes on a quest for treasure and in the process learns about himself. You'd laugh at the clich├ęd nature of that summary were it not so nauseatingly accurate. Following true to the well worn quest template, you can practically see Coelho ticking off the pages in a dog-eared copy of Joseph Campbell, as innocent Santiago sells his flock and travels to North Africa. At every step of this shallow parable we are entreated to pursue our personal legend, achieving the destiny God has put the world to helping us discover. And just in case we could doubt the validity of the central wisdom, Coelho treats us to an introduction explaining how many books he has sold, how many languages his novel has been translated into, and how much money he has made; see, he seems to say, you too could be a fabulously successful novelist if you just pursue your personal legend like me.
I suppose it is to the writer's credit that this reader did read the entire book and did so without vomiting, but there were some close calls. It does take some skill to generate the atmosphere of fairytale, but put in the service of what amounts to 'What Colour is Your Parachute?' meets 'The Bible for Dummies', that does not necessarily make for a good book. And 'The Alchemist' is most definitely not a good book.
Thinking of 'Blackadder II', I remember Lord Percy trying to discover the secrets of alchemy in one afternoon. At the end of his efforts, Blackadder points out that the resulting splat is green. "Oh Edmund can it be true," asks Percy, "that I hold in my mortal hands a nugget of purest GREEN?" Well, while reading 'The Alchemist' that is what I held in my hand, a splat of purest Green. I just hope it washes off.



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