Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Winner Stands Alone by Paulo Coelho

The Winner Stands Alone

Paulo Coelho has written books that I have loved − The Witch of Portobello and Veronika Decides to Die.  Even with the books that I liked but didn't love I was grateful for the experience of reading them because I felt liked I learned something.  Above all Coelho's writing makes me think.  With his latest The Winner Stands Alone all I could think throughout reading it was that Coelho must have been in a really bad mood when he wrote this.  He must have gone to a film festival and just had the most miserable experience ever.

The Winner Stands Alone is set at the Cannes Film Festival and everyone there is shallow, selfish, and scheming to get ahead even if means hurting someone else.  It is not that I doubt that a spectacle like the Cannes Film Festival could bring out the worse in people, what with the slavish attention on celebrity, fame, and money, but in Coelho's version that is all there is.  Almost every character is devoid of any redeeming traits.  They are all caricatures of various degrees of greed and evil.  No one is at the film festival because they actually like movies or art.  It is simply about money and power.  Again, I don't doubt that to a certain degree this is true of Cannes or of the entertainment industry by extension, but the characters in The Winner Stands Alone are so shallow and so one dimensional that nothing about the novel seems to ring true.  Few of the characters are likable and while I don't have to like a character to enjoy a book,  I have to be able to relate to them in someway and here that was hard to do. There has to be some humanity within the character, something to latch onto.  I had a hard time caring or relating to any of the characters in the novel.

Igor is in many ways the downfall of the novel.  He is a Russian billionaire who cannot understand why his wife left him after finding out that on occasion he liked to free people of their sad existence by murdering them.  He goes to Cannes with the intention of "destroying worlds" in an effort to show her how much he loves her and that he would do anything to get her back.  Understandably Ewa is terrified of her ex-husband.  She works up the courage to leave him, but thereafter she shuts down.  Most of her "dialogue" in the book reflects her internal thoughts rather than actual conversations with people who might be able to help her.  When she realizes that Igor is in Cannes instead of saying something to anyone, she says nothing and wonders why her new husband can't read her mind. 

Even the characters I was presumably suppose to root for like Gabriela the aspiring actress, Maureen the aspiring director, or Jasmine the aspiring model, weren't enough to fully draw me in to the novel.  The world Coelho created was so unreal that even these more likeable characters weren't enough to make me care much what happened to them.  On a side note, it is kind of interesting that all more likeable characters are young women aspiring to join an industry that in Coelho's vision will likely lead to a future of botox, and that there are no male equivalents to them.

I'm not giving up on Paulo Coelho.  As noted above he has written books that I loved, namely The Witch of Portobello and Veronika Decides to Die.  He is probably best known for The Alchemist.  So if The Winner Stands Alone does not capture your interest and give one of these other books a try.

Recommended instead
The Witch of Portobello  Veronika Decides to Die The Alchemist


  1. Great review. What's interesting is that I have heard the author is struggling to write because he has some memory issues... I loved Veronika Decides to Die and of course, the Alchemist is sublime. Right now, I am reading a memoir called "Ridinmg with Dead people" about a little girl growing up in a fumeral home.

    1. That's so sad to hear about the Paulo Coelho. Maybe this latest book was written out of frustration. I've only read five or six of his books and am still looking forward to reading some of his older books. "Riding with Dead People" sounds interesting. Did she actually live in the funeral home?

  2. her best friend lived there and the narrator is growing up in a chaotic and abusive environment...I am actually taking a class in LA next sat with the author! There is a writing class called writing pad in downtown la where you get gourmet meals and writing classes!


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