{Review} The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho

19 Mar

The ‘snarky’ tone of this review is a one-off as I usually enjoy the books that I read. Of the 98 books I read last year, only one received a ‘review’ along these lines.

Every time a friend recommends a book by saying, ‘It’s a best-seller… everyone’s read it and you’ll love it!’ it makes me twitch uneasily. Quantity of sales maketh not (necessarily) quality of prose. When the friend who recommended The Alchemist to me used the afore-mentioned line and then declared it to be ‘life-changing’ a few hundred flashing lights and sirens went off in my head. Sceptical? Moi?

Blurb (as written here)
Paulo Coelho’s enchanting novel has inspired a devoted following around the world, and this tenth anniversary edition, with a new introduction from the author, will only increase that following. This story, dazzling in its powerful simplicity and inspiring wisdom, is about an Andalusian shepherd boy named Santiago who travels from his homeland in Spain to the Egyptian desert (my emphasis to illustrate the level of wisdom in this novel) in search of a treasure buried in the Pyramids.

Along the way he meets a Gypsy woman, a man who calls himself king, and an alchemist, all of whom point Santiago in the direction of his quest. No one knows what the treasure is, or if Santiago will be able to surmount the obstacles along the way. But what starts out as a journey to find worldly goods turns into a discovery of the treasures found within. Lush, evocative, and deeply humane, the story of Santiago is an eternal testament to the transforming power of our dreams and the importance of listening to our hearts.


Bizarrely perhaps, the first thing I thought when I’d got into the book was ‘Voltaire’. Each chapter has the repetitive format of, ‘good happens.. bad happens… our hero learns and improves and gets out of whichever scrape he’s in by a hair’s breadth’.

 That is all well and good in Voltaire’s work as he tends to be making a point about society and throws in a few humorous moments. In The Alchemist, I felt as though Coelho were trying to convert me to his way of thinking. This feeling was further intensified by what appeared to be his attempt at setting the tale out to be an allegory. The problem with the moral message that this tale was meant to skilfully contain was re-iterated so many times and in such unsubtle language that I can still see the ‘core ideals’ he wrote about with my eyes open.

 This makes me uncomfortable as it ties in with the first of the pearls of wisdom supposedly imparted by the text: ‘don’t forget the language of omens’. The ‘language’ that this story was supposedly teaching its readers.

 Other elements of the story did not appeal to me, such as dialogue reminiscent of Dan Brown’s and the hint that there would be an Epic Twist at the end of the plot to drive the message about ‘Personal Legends’ further into the reader’s already enfeebled brain.


Don’t believe the hype, believe your heart.

If you feel that you need to justify your desire to do the things that you really want to, don’t read the book, follow the omens you start to see everywhere after having read it and tell the world you’ve had an epiphany. Just do what you love (unless it’s unnecessarily cruel or illegal).

Wild Night In: Wail!


Posted by on March 19, 2012 in 12 in 12, Support your Library


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5 responses to “{Review} The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho

  1. L.S. Engler

    March 19, 2012 at 23:24

    The first time I read The Alchemist, my response was almost identical to yours. I was so irritated with the preachiness of it, the utter lack of finesse, and generally bewildered of how so many people could discover something so meaningful and new in something that I found to be pretty gosh darn obvious.

    I kind of forgot about it for a little bit and then it resurfaced in a pile of books and I thought to read it again, remembering how little I liked it on its first read-through. And was pleasantly surprised by how much more I enjoyed it. Little things about how things transpired still irk me, but I found it to be a nice little story (though very little else) on the second reading, which I would have never expected.

    Who knows? Maybe I’ll have a completely different experience should I tackle it a third time. It’s a quick read, if anything. And it’s good to know that I’m not the only one who read it and found themselves completely underwhelmed.

    • wildnightin

      March 20, 2012 at 14:16

      Glad to know I wasn’t alone in finding it terrible. 🙂

      You’re brave to re-read a book you didn’t like the first time round. Do you often give books a second chance?

      Yes, the story element could have been OK (for me) if it hadn’t been over-shadowed by the preaching throughout. Maybe I’ll try it in a few years and find it slightly better.


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