The Witch of Portobello

I found myself in the West Village a week ago and accidentally meandered past Biography Bookshop, on the corner of Bleecker and 11th. Those of you who have ever been in a bookstore with me know by now that I am incapable of entering without getting lost for way too many hours and buying books I absolutely cannot afford. This is a flaw (or gift, depending on who you ask) that I inherited from my father (thanks, Dad!). But this time, I promise, it wasn't my fault. I was innocently walking by when the bookstore actually ATE me and forced me to pay him $50, but was at least nice enough to give me some good books to take home as souvenirs. Yep, that's exactly what happened.

One of the books I left with (and the only one I've finished to date) was Paul Coelho's The Witch of Portobello, the story of a woman searching to fill what she calls "the blank spaces" -- ultimately, her search is something like the search for self meeting the search for the meaning of life. Given the weighty subject, and the author, it isn't surprising that it can be a bit didactic, but Coelho saves himself from himself with the multi-voice construction he has chosen to use to tell her tale. In addition to giving the reader (read: me) a new "preacher" every few pages, it also fills in necessary plot and character points that no one character could have known, save for the witch herself. And here is the most interesting part about the construction, I thought: the witch is never interviewed. The introduction makes it clear that some one person is interviewing (there is an "I"), but leaves no doubt that the speaker is not, and never will be, the witch herself.

In truth, I couldn't tell you exactly how Coelho preaches finding yourself and the meaning of life. Maybe that isn't even what he is preaching here. Maybe I'm too traditional to understand some of what he was talking about, or maybe he just talks about too much in the span of one book, but despite the shortcomings of his ultimate message, the little messages are enough to make the book worth picking up, in my book. Or on my blog, take your pick.

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