Every so often a book comes along that is championed by millions who read it as profound, life changing and inspirational. For the current generation that book appears to be The Alchemist. 'A Simple fable about the importance of following your dreams'. Who could fail to find something worthwhile in such a blend of magical realism, spirituality and beauty? Well, me for one.
Put simply this is one of the most abject books I have ever read. Anyone who takes a positive, life affirming message from Coelho's prose has completely misunderstood the message it unintentionally broadcasts. Despite what the author and Richard and Judy would have you believe, what The Alchemist does espouse is a barely updated version of Leibnitzian Optimism which occasionally blunders over the line into full blown Fatalism. The very same philosophical position in fact that was so mercilessly torn apart and held up to the light of reason and absurdity by Voltaire over 200 years ago. Rather than a positive message, the book is overwhelmingly negative for anyone who believes in free will or our own ability to make our own choices. As Voltaire realised, the problem with Optimism/Fatalism (above and beyond its complete refusal to accept that bad things happen unless it was for 'a higher reason' or 'the greater good' or 'part of God's plan) is that when you work it all the way through to its logical conclusion you are forced to accept that free will can not exist and that we are all merely pawns in a larger game over which we have no control. How people manage to extract a positive message from being told that happiness is to be found in blindly following a destiny that is laid out before you is utterly beyond me. The one and only character in the book worthy of any sympathy or empathy is the owner of the crystal shop who, although he never gets the chance to realise his own destiny at least fails to do so because he has not accepted his destiny, has not followed the path set out for him. He may not obtain the happiness of the protaganist, but at least he can emerge from the book with his head held high and say 'I did it my way'. The further I continued into this book the angrier and angrier I found myself getting. Coelho and his marketing machine have conned the world into believing he has written an uplifting inspiring masterpiece which (just like its protagonist) seemingly cherishes material gain and publicity over whatever message he is supposed to be delivering. The reality is that he has created a world devoid of hope for the independence of thought and development of humanity. Yes, the prose retains a certain childlike innocence and beauty, certain sentences flow easily off the tongue and his use of language, while simple is evocative, descriptive and emotive. This does nothing however to hide the overwhelming pessimism and lack of freedom espoused within.
As has been said a hundred times before; philosophy-lite (and even that is being very generous), trite and completely unworthy of the praise lavished upon it. This book is a hotch potch mess of cliches about how 'life will work out in the end' and you'll get rich (which is apparently even better than and should be prioritised over falling in love and learning to communicate with the elements and nature itself.) Rarely do I find myself actually becoming angry at a book or author, but this is cynicism and milking of a cash cow in the extreme, packaged up as a book that will help humanity. I found the whole thing shallow and sickening.