Sunday, 19 June 2016

On Paolo Coelho

Everything that happens once can never happen again. But everything that happens twice will surely happen a third time.                                 

                                                                                    Paolo Coelho The Alchemist (1986). 



Oh, Paolo, Paolo, Paolo - just think about what you've said here, for a moment.

Before anything can happen twice it first has to happen once, doesn't it? I mean, things can't happen twice once, can they?  But if, as you insist, things that happen once 'can never happen again' how can anything ever happen twice? And there's no evidence to support your claim that simply because things happen twice they will necessarily happen a third time. Paolo - you're an idiot.

I take this random example of the author's writing because he is (I've decided) the living writer I loathe above all others. (Jealous, much? Of course I am. If I could earn a fraction of his millions by churning out such piffle I'd be laughing all the way to one of my many banks.) I have a particular dislike for Coelho because of something unforgivably stupid and arrogant that he once said about James Joyce:

"One of the books that caused great harm was James Joyce's Ulysses, which is pure style. There is nothing there. Stripped down, Ulysses is a twit."

Perhaps he meant 'tweet'? But what does he know? Stripped down, The Alchemist is a piece of shit.

Nobody serious takes Coelho seriously, and he knows it, and it rattles him because he thinks he a serious writer. He isn't. He's an idiot and his millions of admirers are undiscriminating dupes. This article nails it.

The Alchemist has been translated into more than 60 languages and has sold more than 83 million copies, winning the Guinness World Record for most translated book by a living author. I can't muster the will to tell you what a depressingly tacky and stupid book it is, a nasty mash-up of Ayn Rand and Kahil Gibran. It's jaw-droppingly shallow, smug, infantile, pious and silly. What's it about?

Briefly: a young shepherd named Santiago (and he's lost me already) travels from Spain to the Egyptian desert in search of a treasure buried - where else? - in the Pyramids. Yeah. But I really can't be bothered to summarise this witless farrago. From the ever-reliable Wikipedia:


No one knows what the treasure is, or if Santiago will be able to surmount the obstacles along the way. But what starts out as a journey to find worldly goods turns into a discovery of the treasure found within. 

Ah! So - this thing that you seek, this thing for which your are looking  . . . may have been inside you all along!!!  Eliot said this intelligently in some noble lines from Four Quartets:

We shall not cease from exploration 
And the end of all our exploring 
Will be to arrive where we started 
And know the place for the first time.

But for any novelist such a bull reveal is a cop-out on the level of saying "He woke up to realise it had all been a dream". It's really not worth attacking Coelho for his world-conquering, colossally profitable and utterly ridiculous bromides. You can judge for yourself by reading some more choice quotes from The Alchemist, including this ineffable insight:

If you start by promising what you don't even have yet, you'll lose your desire to work towards getting it.

I'll leave you with that thought.


Extract from 'Little Gidding' © Faber and Faber / The Estate of T. S. Eliot

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