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,