Monday, 25 May 2015

Book #14

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho


This story is about an Andalusian shepherd boy named Santiago who travels from his homeland in Spain to the Egyptian desert in search of a treasure buried in the Pyramids. Along the way he meets a Gypsy woman, a man who calls himself king, and an alchemist, all of whom point Santiago in the direction of his quest. No one knows what the treasure is, or if Santiago will be able to surmount the obstacles along the way. But what starts out as a journey to find worldly goods turns into a discovery of the treasure found within.

This book comes highly recommended, and many advise it's been the catalyst for deep personal change. A true story that turns you on your heel and transforms your mindset, making you a much better person, with a more fulfilling life. This didn't happen to me, and I'm surprised it's happened to people at all.

It's a nice little story at face value, the moral being if you want something deeply enough the world will conspire to make it happen. You have to want and want and want it, rejecting anything else that comes your way, taking no heed of criticism or the wants of others, and pursue it with all of your strength. Then, it'll happen. It will. A nice thought, but what if your heart's true desire is something bloody awful, something that will hurt you, or others around you? What then? Surely we should be listening to criticism and weighing up how our actions will affect those around us before making a decision? I think if we all lived by the ideals in The Alchemist, the world would be a horrible place.

Written as a fable, Coelho uses mystical and lyrical prose to reel us in. Imagine a tiny gypsy's tent filled with perfumed smoke that makes you feel sleepy and dizzy. As Santiago leaves for his spiritual quest, symbols hit the head of the reader every few pages. Everything seems condescending and pretty obvious hocus pocus.

I don't like the idea here that someone who works hard every day to put food on the table for their family is a lesser person that one who drops absolutely everything, and everyone, to follow the dream of their life. It's disgusting. For me, the generous, the kind, the ones who have learned from their mistakes, are those who hold my respect.

Coelho also never once mentions the personal legends of women. Any man we meet has either achieved his own legend, has missed it, or is on his way to achieve it. The women we are introduced to in the book (who are few and far between) have no personal legends, sit around waiting for the men, or do little jobs around the home. We're told Fatima, the woman Santiago falls in love with, is part of his personal legend, but there's no mention of her own. She seems to have been written into the world to only wait for him to come back for her. What kind of a personal legend is that? Men are to shun all responsibility, pursue their legends, whilst the women are there simply to hold the fort until they return.

I thought I'd really like someone to let me know what type of philosophical discovery they managed to get from reading this book, but I've had enough after reading some really gushy reviews. Anything this fable tried to give me I either deeply disagreed with, or thought, "no shit."

This is the second Coelho novel I have absolutely hated.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Book #13

A Decent Ride by Irvine Welsh

A rampaging force of nature is wreaking havoc on the streets of Edinburgh, but has top shagger, drug-dealer, gonzo-porn-star and taxi-driver, ‘Juice’ Terry Lawson, finally met his match in Hurricane ‘Bawbag’? Can Terry discover the fate of the missing beauty, Jinty Magdalen, and keep her idiot-savant lover, the man-child Wee Jonty, out of prison? Will he find out the real motives of unscrupulous American businessman and reality-TV star, Ronald Checker? And, crucially, will Terry be able to negotiate life after a terrible event robs him of his sexual virility, and can a new fascination for the game of golf help him to live without A Decent Ride?

I live for new Welsh novels. Nothing can beat being amazed and disgusted whilst pishing yourself laughing at the same time. A Decent Ride was absolutely no exception; I loved it.

To see Welsh return to Edinburgh soil and show us more depth to a character we already know, was brilliant. Having him ferry us around in his cab, giving us the Juice Terry tour of Embra, was unbelievably barry. Terry is an incredibly flawed character, with his misogynistic way of viewing women, his penchant for sex, and his various other illegal little hobbies. Underneath all that, however, we can see a heart of gold (albeit a small one) shining through his tracky jacket.

We're introduced to a new character, Wee Jonty, Terry's terribly slow and dimwitted half-brother (or is he?). He gets himself into a number of situations ranging from the awkward to the downright macabre. Despite some of the actions he takes, you find yourself writing them off because he's such a poor wee soul. I think we all know a wee guy like Jonty, and probably none of us bother our arse about him.

The most important question underneath the narrative is, 'Who owns Scotland?'. Welsh makes some excellent, yet subtle, points here, and it's a good thought-provoker on the good-old independence question. 

Welsh is on top form here. It's hard to agree whether this is "his filthiest yet", but it's definitely up there with the pit of the stomach boke, I canny believe I'm reading this, typical Welsh prose. A decent ride, right enough.