Sunday, December 25, 2011

Review: The Alchemist

The Alchemist is a magical realism fable. While not as irritating as One Hundred Years of Solitude, it has its own rhythm and sound, and practically no plot. That last bit is not a bad thing, once you realize that it's a fable, where the entire point of the book is to tell you something you already know.

In many ways, the book is elegant. The story revolves around a Shepard who is told that he has a Personal Legend and who should pursue it. While pursuing it, he has good fortune, ill fortune, shows himself to be enterprising, meets his true love the way only characters in novels can, and pursues and discovers his dream, which somehow brings him back to where he started, but from a different place. This motif recurs in all sorts of novels, including A Wizard of Earthsea or even The Lord of the Rings. Unlike those stories, however, this one is told simply, with a light language and guilelessly, as though such stories have never been told.

I can see why this book is popular amongst people who almost never read books. It gives you the impression of depth, but without having to actually work at it. It's a quick read, so even if you end up disliking it (as I did), it's not a thorough waste of time. Nevertheless, there are many far better books that are well worth the added time. If you find yourself impressed by this book, then I submit that you are not sufficiently widely read enough, as this answer on Quora explains. For my money, the similarly length'd Very Far Away From Anywhere Else will teach you far more about the human condition than this novel, and is better written to boot. If you want something whimsy and easy to read, try Neil Gaiman's Stardust instead.

Not recommended. I'm glad I checked this ebook from the library instead of spending hard-earned money on it.
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