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Last Updated: Monday, 28 July, 2003, 14:24 GMT 15:24 UK
Eleven Minutes
Paulo Coelho
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.)


JOHN MULLAN:
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...

TIM MARLOW:
And?

JOHN MULLAN:
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 convictions.

TIM MARLOW:
Gets your vote, does he?

JOHN MULLAN:
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 matters universally.

BONNIE GREER:
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 Darkness...

TIM MARLOW:
We're getting a lot of good references here.

BONNIE GREER:
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.

IAN RANKIN:
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...

TIM MARLOW:
What about the sex though? I mean this is the first book he has written about sex...

IAN RANKIN:
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 this book.

BONNIE GREER:
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 understand...


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