Posted in Book reviews

Goodreads book review – The Alchemist

The AlchemistThe Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

It seems that everybody has read the Alchemist and it seems also, that everybody loves it. For my part, I can at least say that I have read it now.

When I started reading this book I thought I was going to love it. It seemed sweet and simple and quite enchanting but as I continued reading the sweetness became a bit sickly and the simplicity a bit insulting.

Perhaps it’s me, but I can’t accept the idea that everybody has a destiny and that to achieve it all you need to do is listen to your heart. For a start, it’s all well and good if your destiny is love or happiness or untold treasures but what if your destiny is to be always hungry, or always in pain, or, for example, to be raped and murdered during a civil war or to be tortured to death by your government….. Should you also follow your heart towards these things? Or is the idea that terrible things only happen to people because they didn’t listen to their hearts? As far as I can see fate and destiny just don’t stack up when you start to think about them logically.

Aside from having a problem with the premise of the book, I also found the Alchemist a bit flat: the characters are flat, the scenery is flat and the narrative is flat; the ending is one of the flattest, laziest and most disappointing I’ve ever come across. I wanted to love this novel – I really did – but in the end it left me feeling a bit irritated and underwhelmed.

In conclusion, I suppose I’m just too cynical for fate, destiny and the Alchemist.

A note on book reviews

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Goodreads book review – The good man Jesus and the scoundrel Christ*

The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel ChristThe Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I came to The good man Jesus and the scoundrel Christ having read the His dark materials trilogy but found none of the withering and thought provoking criticism of the power afforded to organised religion in those works here. In fact, Pullman’s retelling of the story of Christ felt a little juvenile and little lazy. It added nothing salient to the weary debate about the value and nature of religion, and at times seemed like an unnecessary and cheap point scoring exercise.

Of course Philip Pullman is no stranger to religious controversy and perhaps, given a certain inclination of faith The good man Jesus and the scoundrel Christ is a deeply controversial work. For my part – not being of that particular inclination – I can only set aside the apparent controversy and conclude that without it this is little more than a story about the nature of stories. I’ve read plenty of stories about stories before; the blurred lines between fact, fiction, truth, history and memory have been explored time and again elsewhere and sadly this book didn’t feel anything like a stand out example of an over familiar post-modern genre.

It’s disappointing not to find something positive to say about a novel, so I suppose it’s fair to say that there is some charm in the fable like nature of this one – although perhaps this owes more to the gospels themselves than to Pullman’s rendering of them.

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* A note on book reviews

Posted in Book reviews

A note on book reviews

In some ways it must  seem a little odd to include a book review in a blog about battling depression, so I thought I’d write a little note to let readers know (and more importantly remind myself) why I have decided to include these.

I was quite determined when I started writing that this blog would only be about depression insofar as it would be about my efforts to manage the condition; I was quite clear that I wanted to use it to focus on the positives and to record my progress and successes…. And, in my mind reading and reviewing fiction is most definitely progress for me!

When I’m not well reading becomes a lonely and solitary activity that I can’t seem to manage but when I’m doing better fiction is a huge part of my life – in some ways I see it as my first and last love. It’s important that I’m able to read and to engage with what I’m reading, and including the reviews here is yet another of the checks I am putting in place to keep myself on the right path. If the reading and reviewing starts drying up, it’ll be a little warning sign that things are taking a downward trajectory and an indication I need to take some action.

That’s the plan, anyway…

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Goodreads book review – Death at intervals

Death at Intervals

Death at Intervals by José Saramago
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The central premise of José Saramago’s Death at intervals is simple, if impossible – one day, without warning, people stop dying…. And so ensures a fascinating exploration of some fundamental and enduring human concerns –our relationship with mortality, our reliance on governance, the morality of euthanasia, the roles of state and religion, and (not least) the nature of love and the meaning of life.

I loved this book in so many ways and the story itself is mischievous, thought provoking and challenging. Whilst Saramago’s rendering of the conventional sentence feels a little meandering and difficult at first it is well worth the effort and perseverance, particularly when it comes to the perfectly drawn plot twist – the anticipation of which runs to more than ten pages and feels like a sentence spilled into a paragraph spilled into a chapter. (Incidentally, if you want to get the full effect of this book I’d recommend reading it without first reading the publisher’s blurb on the back cover). For me, the stand out thing about Death at intervals is the ambiguity of the narrative voice – at times it is difficult to determine where speech ends and the narrative voice resumes. Unreliable narrators are something of a favourite of mine, because, as Saramago himself puts it ‘one cannot be too careful with words. Words change their minds just as people do’.

In summary I think this is a brilliant novel by a brilliant writer and I’m looking forward to reading more of his work.

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