Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Poet vs Pragmatist - A Sunday Salon Wrestling Match

I really do have mixed feelings about this book -

The Witch of Portobello by Paulo Coelho , translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa. On the one hand, the poet in me appreciates some very artistic phrasing. On the other hand, my pragmatic self finds the writing annoyingly artsy. The poet appreciates Coelho's creative presentation of his central character. Deceased as the story opens, The Witch is revealed through successive interviews with people who knew her. Each character has a unique viewpoint and contributes additional pieces to the portrayal. My pragmatic self has problems with the believability of all the characters.

Sherine Khalil (The Witch), prefers to be called Athena. She is a gypsy by birth, adopted by a Lebanese Christian couple. Her adoptive father's apparent belief in her psychic abilities causes the family to flee Lebanon and emigrate to England. Later Athena meets and seems to instantly recognize the man she will later marry. The suggestion, of course, seems to be that she is a clairvoyant. Well, Pragmatist thinks the clairvoyant needs glasses. She's not much of a soothsayer since her marriage fails and causes the loss of her important connection to the Catholic church. Denied communion, she overreacts.

Pragmatist: You're not kidding! She stands up in church and curses them!

Poet: Is it possible that this is not a case of faulty fortune-telling, but rather a conscious decision on Athena's part, a decision to suffer for some as yet unexplained reason?

Pragmatist: Rot!

Poet: The book is interesting. I can't put it down. Sometimes I find myself stopping mid-paragraph, just to savour a new idea. How about this: Pity those who seek for shepherds, instead of longing for freedom! That's a really great sentence!

Pragmatist: Did this come from Coelho or from the translator? How much has been lost in translation? How much has been added?

Poet: Some of the writing is quite lovely.

Pragmatist: Artsy crap, over-embellished and it sounds foreign. He lost me when the landlord told how a group of people came to his house every night with the express purpose of dancing to percussive sound. Their object was to dance to the point of exhaustion and to thereby reach a state of ecstasy which they claimed was a "search for the Vertex". And not just one person! A whole collection of loonies! These are not normal people. Nah...just too nutty.

Poet: Yes, it does strain reason a bit, but I'm going to finish this book. It has redeeming qualities. There's some poetry about it.

Susan: Coelho did accomplish one thing. He's provided a temporary cure to my book buying. Normally I'll pick up two or three books on each of my twice-weekly shopping trips to Costco. The last time I went I couldn't bring myself to even look at fiction. Like a drowning man, I grasped for a straw. I bought "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins.

Poet-Agnostic: Now, I have some reservations about that one...

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At 2:27 PM, Blogger Andi said...

LOL, love this post. I was just looking at The Witch of Portobello in Books-a-Million this morning. I passed.

At 2:39 PM, Blogger Literary Feline said...

Great post, Susan!

I enjoyed reading The Alchemist quite a bit. I liked the author's prose and style. Still, I can see how it could get tiresome as well. I haven't yet read anything else by the author, but I do want to.

At 11:54 PM, Blogger Mrs S said...

I picked this up at the store on Friday - and then put it back down as I haven't read one of his yet and couldn't decide... thanks for the review - given what you've written I'm glad I left it on the self!


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