Newsnight Review discussed Eleven Minutes by Brazilian author Paulo Coelho.
(Edited highlights of the panel's review taken from the teletext subtitles that are generated live for Newsnight Review.)
Well, I was fascinated because the thing
about Coelho, everybody knows, is that
he shifts amazing numbers of books. The
people who talk about the power of his
books talk about them as very meaningful,
significant, they always say life-affirming
experiences. I did read this thinking why
is it so important to many people? Why
is this author...
Well... I mean, anybody who writes the
sentence "with my fifth orgasm I knew
God," and does it in earnest, as he
does, has a certain strength of
Gets your vote, does he?
Well, he writes these fables, really
in which everything is significant.
Everything matters. This one is about
the sacredness of sex and everything
that everybody says, every experience
they have, nothing circumstantial or
incidental. Everything is allegorical and
they're all, his novels, are pilgrimage
fables and they take people through life,
as Bunion did in Pilgrim's Progress as
if every incident and every statement
Well, you know, I agree in that sense and
then you come across, I copied this one
line down he says, "What is
more important in life, living or pretending
to live?" It made me stop for about two
seconds, I thought good question. But that
is also the centre of Madame Bovary, that's
also the centre of Anna Karenina, Heart of
We're getting a lot of good references
Well exactly, you see. People are reading
this book, it's a beach read. You read
along very very quickly and hit a line
like that and it makes you stop and it can
make you think, ah, this is a deep book.
I'm not saying he is doing
it as a trick, but it can make people feel
as if they're reading things profoundly.
He says, he asks questions like, "Are you
living your real life or is that someone
else living your life?" And people do
think like that. I'm not saying this is
literature, but that is what people think.
That was a dreadful book. It's the first of
his I've read and it'll be the last, I think.
It is written, you're right, this spiritual
belief thing, it's written like a series of
church sermons. I was feeling a little
down so I went to the funfair and I saw
the roller coaster and you know, life is
like a roller coaster. I mean, for God's
sake! The diary entries are fake and the
sex is fake...
What about the sex though? I mean this
is the first book he has written about
Oh please! I kept expecting to turn the
page and see a kind of a drawing of a
bearded guy with glasses having it off
with some woman. It was like Alex
Comfort had written the sex scenes in
I'm not gonna read another one of his
books but I can say this: I can understand
why he has shifted so many copies.
Every line is surprising. Now you may
not like the line but you don't expect that
to be the next line, so you keep reading. I
read it in one zip, and I thought, ok, I can