I didn’t expect to write a review of The Alchemist (Paulo Coelho’s bestselling fable) that included a reference to Monty Python but this book surprised me in lots of ways.
The first was that I enjoyed it. I had avoided it because the reviews I’d read painted it as more of a self-help book than an actual novel and I’m not great with those. It’s a tale about a shepherd called Santiago who sets out on an adventure to fulfil his own “personal legend” – the thing you know you want to accomplish but are unsure if you can. He has a dream that he believes to be prophetic, so he sets out from Spain to Egypt in search of his treasure. Interestingly, it’s not actually a new story but a rehash of many old fables, (none of which are credited by the author – read Wikipedia on that here) which is probably the reason why I enjoyed it; I like a well-told fable.
Secondly, I hadn’t expected the language to sound so lovely and melodic, although I’m sure having Jeremy Irons read it to me on the audio version helped (it might not sound so great in my head):
“My heart is afraid that it will have to suffer,” the boy told the alchemist one night as they looked up at the moonless sky.
“Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams.”
An added advantage was that a couple of his character voices sounded like Michael Palin in The Holy Grail. Truly so funny that I laughed out loud.
The Alchemist is a deep book but in a very unsubtle, I’m really going to spell these messages out and repeat them and then say them again very, very s-l-o-w-l-y so everyone can understand the message as if they’ve been hit over the head with it, e.g. “When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us strives to be better too.” i.e. the universe will conspire with you to help you achieve your personal legend, if you are only brave enough to find it. It’s laden with symbolism, e.g. a shopkeeper that Santiago encounters represents everyone who is risk-averse and too scared to fulfil their own personal legends. I could have done with a little less direction about how I was supposed to link things together and a little more space to find the linkages myself.
I can see why people love this book and I can also see why people find it too much. On the whole, I suppose no one ever went wrong with a short sharp dose of optimistic life lessons wrapped inside a wonderfully crafted fable, particularly if parts of it sound (unintentionally) like Monty Python. I just wouldn’t want a lot more of them… I’m done for now.
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