Again, I’m not sure when I picked up this and The Witch of Portobello, but I’m assuming sometime back in 2011 as I mention them in a post as far back as my May 2012 update. I once again ask why I don’t read more of his and why I put it off for so long between reading his works. He said something in the forward, that struck me,
“Some books make us dream, others bring us face to face with reality, but what matters most to the author is the honesty with which a book is written.”
Having now read six of Coelho’s many published works it is easy to see he truly lives by this. His stories make you dream and bring you face-to-face with reality, and every one of them have an honesty that is hard to find in so many authors’ works. I have yet to read a book written by him that didn’t touch me in some way whether it was on a spiritual or inspirational level or on a cognitive level.
What I’m finding most interesting as I read my way through Coelho’s oeuvre is his focus on duality: organized religion and spirituality, rich and poor, the sacred and profane, and most recently (in my reading order at least) masculinity and femininity. He doesn’t set them up as an either or, but shows them all on a spectrum and how those on one side can easily identify with the other side or slide around on the scale a bit. Many times his subject matter deals with the ethereal and often he ties that to the physical, but book (Amazon Affiliate link), was by far based in the most physical and then tied to the ethereal.
I read this, first and foremost as a book about sex and sexuality and the relationship each have with love. It is a book about learning and teaching about life through sex and sexuality, and ultimately love whether it is unrequited or not. This novel’s focus on sex and the earthly beauty of it, while looking at the ethereal qualities of love was so delicate considering it was through the light of prostitution.
“Everything is important. If you live your life intensely, you experience pleasure all the time and don’t feel the need for sex. When you have sex, it’s out of a sense of abundance, because the glass of wine is so full that it overflows naturally, because it is inevitable, because you are responding to the call of life, because at that moment, and only at that moment, you have allowed yourself to lose control.” (174)
He grounds himself purely in the psychical and then moves on to the philosophical and psychological.
“I think that perhaps we always fall in love the very first instant we see the man of our dreams, even though, at the time, reason may be telling us otherwise, and we may fight against that instinct, hoping against hope that we won’t win, until there comes a point when we allow ourselves to be vanquished by our feelings.” (254)
Perhaps it’s because of his own life experiences, which he acknowledges in every book, or perhaps it’s because of his age, which he acknowledges specifically in this book, but he writes in such an experienced and nuanced manner that anyone can relate to a subject matter completely foreign to them.
At one point he makes a comment about cities and I feel it truly can be said about people, relationships and sex as well,
“It’s odd how, when you live in a city, you always postpone getting to know it and usually end up never knowing it at all.” (236)
How well do you really know someone after years of a relationship, especially if it’s reaching an end point? Can you say you’ve known them? Or were you a temporary resident? Ditto with sex, how can anyone know everything sexually about a person? Isn’t there always something withheld? At what point are you complete? Can you be complete?
As a last side note, one thing that I found really interesting was connecting the experience of this book to my recent reading of Male Sex Work and Society and how different the approaches are apart from being fiction and nonfiction respectively. Both pieces spoke with sex workers and learned their stories and their habits (Coelho did speak with at least one male identified sex worker) and they each reported the sex workers’ experiences to completely different effect.
Recommendation: As with all of his works so far, I would recommend this. Which book I would recommend to which person depends on personality. Although at glance this book is about sex and sexuality, it’s overarching theme is about love (at least according to Coelho and the tree from my last post).
Opening Line: “Once upon a time, there was a prostitute called Maria.”
Closing Line: “Once upon a time…“ (Whited out, highlight to read.