Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Book Review: Veronika Decides to Die by Paulo Coelho


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Reading Paulo Coelho’s novel Veronika Decides to Die was enjoyable, but it failed to be truly eye-opening for the same reasons that Coelho’s other novels fail: they are too allegorical. From the beginning, the reader—if he has a passing knowledge of Coelho’s work—knows more or less where the novel will end up. I made a private wager with myself, and if it had been one in Vegas instead, I would be a rich woman right now.

Nevertheless, Veronika Decides to Die remains a compelling and fascinating book, if only for its tour of a mental institution. Coelho himself was institutionalized several times as an adolescent for wanting to be a writer, so he knows of what he speaks. I personally spent a short term in what would now be referred to as a mental health facility, so I particularly enjoy these descriptions for how precisely accurate they are. When we think of mental institutions, we tend to think of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (which, admittedly, so did I—before). I’m sure such facilities exist, sadly, but thankfully my experience was much closer to Veronika’s. I believe for people who have not been personally affected by mental illness (or those who have), this book is worth a read for no other reason.

That Coelho got the details correct is important because, as I alluded to before, the story itself is rather simple: Veronika decides to kill herself by taking sleeping pills, but fails to complete the job. She awakens in a mental institution where she is told that although the pills did not directly kill her, they so damaged Veronika’s heart that she only had about five days from there. Carrying on, we see how Veronika deals with her self-inflicted death sentence amid a host of mental patients.

Per usual, Coelho’s themes are explicitly stated, numerous times, by numerous characters. This can get annoying: Coelho essentially beats you over the head with what he wants you—and his characters—to take from the experience. The theme is one that I think most of us can agree upon, and it has some elements of a “feel good” book for that reason (plot and setting aside).

In the end, I enjoyed Veronika Decides to Die, but likely largely for the ways in which it touched upon my own experiences. Although I believe that anyone can learn from it, not everyone will want to—which is perfectly okay, and something to keep in mind,

11 comments:

  1. I tend to get too annoyed with allegorical tales, especially the kind that smack you over the head, its probably a good thing that I haven't tried this author.

    Do you ever wonder why so often intense creativity is confused with mental illness? Or how much 'mental illness' has contributed to the world? After seeing the film, The Aviator, I found myself wondering if Howard Hughes would have been such a creative genius if his mental illness had been treated like we do today. Which, of course, leads me to wondering if in some circumstances, creativity and imagination open a person's mind to a whole new level, which in some people manifests as illness..

    Okay, now I'm just blathering on, when what I really meant to say, was great review! It's only 4:30 am here, and you've woke up my brain!

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  2. Great review - thanks! I appreciate you stopping by my blog. Good luck in the giveaways!

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  6. this is by far my favorite book of paulo coelho :)

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  7. thanks for entering my contest!!

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  9. Nice review. I liked the premise of this story, and even though I guessed the outcome I enjoyed it somewhat. It could have been better I thought but I don't know how exactly. Just not completely satisfying. I don't think Coelho is a writer for me.

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  10. Its true about Paulo I hear it time and again...he just doesnt quite hit the mark. I have not read this book, it looks interesting.

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