London calling ...


The Collaborator: A ThrillerJust spent a week in London, enjoying National Gallery (Italian altarpieces - Devotion by Design exhibition) , V&A, walks in Kensington Park and Hyde Park. I went along to Vespers in the Greek Cathedral (with about 5 or 6 other people ... quite a select congregation) and heard their very meditative chanting for the first time. Didn't see Prince Philip though. Found time to read a thriller (The Collaborator) about the Naples mafia, the Comorra. That was fun, if rather bloody. Not suitable for children ... And a rather odd book by someone whose name I have seen everywhere but had never before read: Paulo Coelho. His book, The Valkyries, tells of his self-obsessed search for weird, ritual experiences and quasi-mystical thrills.

The ValkyriesCoelho is a poet and musician who began his adult life in a mental hospital; then sold his soul to Satan and ended up being tortured in a Brazilian prison ... the plot of his book is that, justa  few years ago, someone called J, a mentor in some secret magic cult to which he belongs, sends him on a quest to meet his guardian angel.

He is helped to do this by a tribe of lustily promiscuous female bikers, whose leader was instructed to quit her husband and young children by the Archangel Michael, in order to take up an interesting mix of preaching and prostitution. All of this is treated with taste and discretion as might befit a spiritual work (!) and the weirdest of all is it professes to be all true. Sad thing is, it probably is true. Left me feeling exasperated, although all sorts of luvvies found it inspiring and energizing, according to the the blurbs on the back.

The book is, apparently, his most personal and autobiographical so far (he has written lots of novels). The most impressive mystical happening in the book is his memory of being freed from demonic posession by reciting the Our Father, Hail Mary and the Creed and asking Jesus to forgive him. He promises to give up his life for God in order to save his soul. From feeling he is about to die, in fits and spasms of  terror, he, and his girlfriend, recover their calm and feel the grace of God flow through them again. This is recounted as a memory of his distant past. Now, it seems, that kind of heartfelt prayer (which seemed to work!) has been mostly left behind, in favour or magical rites and half an hour of 'channelling' every evening.

The enduring impression it left me with was of a narcissistic lost soul, incapable of much love but loved deeply by his long-suffering wife. And the prose style was spare, not especially beautiful.  I cannot see why people think he is such a guru; but it has made him very rich, apparently, so well done Coelho. I can promse you I shan't be reading his next book.

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