On the Docket: The Winner Stands Alone by Paulo Coelho
The Plot: The Winner Stands Alone takes place during one day of the lush and extravagant Cannes Film Festival. A variety of characters, at various levels of success, contemplate the meaning of life while an uber-philosophical serial killer stalks the streets of this small but dazzling town. An actress, producer, model, fashion designer, and film developer must learn to navigate the harsh world of celebrity culture.
First Impressions: I have never read a book by Coelho before and perhaps I have chosen the wrong one with which to begin. As much as I loved the message and social commentary behind the content, Coelho’s delivery was exceptionally frustrating. The sentence structure, dialogue, and plot line felt painfully detailed. Coelho put an interesting and contemporary twist on the traditional stream of consciousness format. His language, however, irritated me to no end. At times, it felt pretentious and condescending. The characters did not ring true for me and, possibly, weren’t meant to be. Maybe characters of The Winner Stands Alone were supposed to be esoteric and absurd, in order to prove a point. Unfortunately, I could not and did not appreciate the mission that this novel was attempting to accomplish. It’s so difficult to review a novel with which I agree but do not like. It is possible that my lack of enjoyment stems from the translation, for language can be a very delicate matter.
The motivations of Gabriela and Igor were annoyingly transparent. I couldn’t truly care about a single character because they all reeked of such an unnecessary intellectual awareness. Everyone spoke and thought like philosophers. Usually, I enjoy reading about people who think deeply and wonder about the world from a fantastical perspective. In this case, I was just lost. Lost and insulted by the words that seemed to be talking down at me. Some of the metaphors were painfully obvious and yet Coelho felt compelled to milk it continually, until I simply didn’t care about his philosophical intentions.
Final Verdict: Did I learn something coherent and “philosophically” relevant from this novel? Despite the frustration level, yes I certainly did. Few writers have the guts to dissect the insanity of celebrity culture with such intense disdain, and I was glad to find this one. Did I enjoy reading this book? Plain and simple, no. Unfortunately, it was a chore, right down to the last sentence.