Review: The Witch of Portobello

The Witch of PortobelloThe Witch of Portobello by Paulo Coelho
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I like to avoid spoilers wherever possible, I even stay away from reviews and trailers for most movies and books. But in the last few years I’ve come to the conclusion that (with the exception of detective stories and murder mysteries) if a story is good, it will still be good if you know the ending. For example, any historical non-fiction book and even some historical fiction. This book is a great example that this can definitely be true. The reader learns in the first chapter that The Witch of Portobello is dead. The rest of the book is essentially the story of how she ended up dead. But knowing where the story is going does not detract from it. Au contrair, it actually leads to a kind of reverse mystery story.

This was a book I thought I would hate based on the description. A couple chapters in, I was sure it would be a 2 star book. But it grew and grew and grew on me until I couldn’t stop reading it.

What I like about the book most is the fact that the entire story is told from the point of view of people who knew the main character. The main character never gets a POV chapter and the hidden main character (the person interviewing those who knew the main character) only gets a chapter at the end. Of course, this creates a more compelling story because none of the POV characters is a reliable narrator. Each one is trying to make themselves look better to the interviewer as well as potentially lying to themselves consciously or unconsciously.

The mystical nature that made up a portion of the story wasn’t new to me. For the past 2-3 years I’ve been reading stories and novellas that spoke of similar occult themes – particularly Alan Moore’s From Hell. I think if you just view it as the journey the protagonist is taking, you can enjoy the story. If you try to take the mysticism seriously, it’s going to depend on your tolerance for New Age-y stuff whether this drives you away from the book or attracts you deeper into it. For me it was merely the protagonist’s journey and I didn’t concern myself with whether it was naive or deep or true or not.

Everything comes together to form a very neat story in which the reader is never certain what is true and what is exaggeration in a story about a very compelling life’s journey.

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