Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Winner Stands Alone - Paulo Coelho

The Winner Stands Alone - Paulo Coelho
Read Paulo Coelho's 'The Winner Stands Alone" (Harper Collins, 375 p, Rs. 325) recently. I have not read Paulo Coelho's books after I had read 'The Alchemist' many years ago. I was very impressed by 'The Alchemist' and gifted it to many people as well. Many times in bookstores I lingered over his books wondering if I should pick up one but never did. Until this book came along.

'The Winner Stands Alone' disappointed me pretty early on into the book. On the face of it this story is of a rich, ruthless, cold blooded businessman Igor Malev, a Russian, who travels to the Cannes Film Festival to win back his wife Ewa who left him for a young Arab fashion designer. Igor is the owner of the biggest telecom company in Russia, an ex-war veteran who knows all the ways of combat and killing. And intelligent that he is, this possessor of great love, decides that he must communicate to Ewa that he is willing to do anything to prove his great love for her - so naturally he decides that he must 'destroy whole worlds'. Coelho seemed to have based his book on this theme - what if someone loves someone else so much that they can destroy whole worlds for them?

Destroying whole worlds means killing people of course, and Igor, the superkiller, picks and kills several people in a 24 hour span using the most complicated methods that no one can understand. He uses some method of killing called sambo where he presses some nerve endings and the victim just falls off in his arms in the middle of the road, uses some rare poison dart to kill another, uses a knife to kill another...bored the hell out of me.

The purpose of his killing people is so he can send text messages  to his wife. Unfortunately she does not understand what he means by 'destroying whole worlds for you' - of course even we don't understand why he is doing that. The only way she identifies that she has her ex-husband in their midst in Cannes is by the words he uses to address her, some endearment from the days they spent in Siberia or some place!

What kind of intelligence is this to make someone you love come back? Will she instantly clap her hands and say Wow my superhero, you have killed for me, I will come back to you? Is that intelligent? Because Igor, until the very end seems to believe that she will come back to him. Igor seems like he needs more help than the other war veterans he despises for their weakness in succumbing to the images of war they had been through. How he made a success of anything  with such lopsided and stupid thinking is a mystery to me. And if I'd want to destroy worlds, I'd simply kill off her new husband/boyfriend quietly in a side alley using the sambo to good use and start sending her flowers and chocolates instead of gory text messages.

The second obsession of Coelho (the first is destroying whole worlds) in this book seems to be the Superclass who are the people who have made it in their life. They have money, parties, beauty, women, men, sex and in this clase are all those who go to the Cannes Film Festival as the biggies of fashion, movies and such industries. Many time Coelho's descriptions of the Superclass seem like essays on their debauchery, on how the whole rotten system works, how cruel and insensitive it is. From production houses who rip off writers, to fashion czars, models, wannabe actresses, ageing actors - he is deeply critical of the Superclass. After taking off on them extensively he returns to the story of killing and texting.

He finally mixes up his theory of the person who will destroy whole worlds for his beloved and the Superclass, adds some more wannabe directors, models, actresses, directors who want to make it big and we have a story that never takes off. Many characters flit in with their back stories who did not seem relevant to me. A police inspector and a lecturing pathologist try to tell us what happened as they repeatedly tell us what we already know. That the killer is forytish, intelligent, rich, knows deadly ways of killing and is possibly a serial killer. Anyway they come across as so dumb that you start feeling they might never ever catch him. Just when you start wondering if you should get out before wasting any more time on the book, Igor finally meets his ex-wife and explains why he did this (it would have been simpler if he met her at first and then started to kill), she confesses eternal love for him perhaps because he has a gun in his hand and the Arab shows off his knowledge of guns, not necessarily people when he decides rather foolishly  to take on Igor. In the end, let me save you from the ordeal by revealing it, Igor gets into his plane, forty, intelligent, good looking and rich, and flies off after destroying two more worlds. And plenty of your time.

Read it if you want to go to Cannes film festival and want an inside peek into what happens with the Superclass or the fan class. Or if you want to know about exotic ways of killing people and making of without being caught. But don't read it if you are hoping to win back the woman who left you - you just might kill her off when she comes back to you. All in all, it was too long, dragged many parts, had no real depth or motive for characters and a huge disappointment from Coelho who is otherwise one of my favourite writers. The clarity with which he normally approaches his themes was missingand there are too many things that he tried. Unfortuntaely none of them worked, I think it would have worked better if Igor has a better and more humane way of winning his love back. Even if it was set in Timbuctoo and not Cannes.     


Dr. Ranjani said...

Great review Hari. I was able to make it only through the first few pages where the first person is killed. Thanks for saving a few hours of everyone's reading lives.
Have read couple of other Coelho's books but none match the simplicity and genius of Alchemist.

Harimohan said...

Thanks Ranjani. I do intend to read other books by Coelho however. Heard good reviews of a couple of them.