Book Review: ‘The Winner Stands Alone’ by Paulo Coelho


Book Title: The Winner Stands Alone

Author: Paulo Coelho

Genre: Realism (Thriller)

Summary: Set during the Cannes Film Festival, the novel – in typical Coelho style – philosophically explores notions of fame and power. With a thriller-esque story (which may surprise avid fans of The Alchemist) , the narrative follows the main character, Igor, whose determination to win back his wife has great affects on the other characters in the novel and their pursuit of success. Igor sends messages to his wife – in the form of murder. While this occurs, the “underworld” of Cannes is explored – the manipulation of dreams, the faux celebrity, the trap of fame, money and power. Challenging the cult of celebrity, Coelho’s raw representation of success in the film and fashion industries is prefaced with the statement: “This is not a thriller, but a stark portrait of where we are now”.

Favourite Scene: Javits keeps a list of “what being normal means” and the forty-six statements listed made me laugh, cry, shiver, and wonder why we do this to ourselves. Highlights include:

Working from nine to five every day at something that gives you no pleasure at all just so that, after thirty years, you can retire.

Waking up each morning to an hysterical alarm clock on the bedside table.

Always saying ‘I tried’ when you didn’t really try at all.

(Coelho, Paulo. The Winner Stands Alone, Sydney: Harper Collins, 2009. pp 56-58)

Favourite Character: Jasmine – for her sensible attitude and integrity.

Review:  I have always been a great fan of Coelho’s writing and reading this novel was quite a different experience when I reflect on how I felt reading The Alchemist and even Eleven Minutes. It felt strange to have philosophical dialogue juxtaposed with murder scenes and I found the experience quite … frustrating. I actually cannot decide if I love or hate this book. The depiction of the Cannes Film Festival is almost brutal – there’s nothing to love about the ‘Superclass’ and the representation of fame and glamour (and money and power) is alarming. I cannot criticise the writing because Coelho is a compelling author who knows his craft; the plot, however, was terribly depressing. Murdering people to send a message to his wife … Igor is completely psychotic – and you want to seize some of the women with whom he interacts and shake them! What I hate most about the book, though, is that Coelho warned me before I started reading it … It is a stark portrait indeed. And terrifyingly accurate.

7 comments on “Book Review: ‘The Winner Stands Alone’ by Paulo Coelho

  1. Hello,

    I have just finished this book and was left feeling a little unbalanced by it, which is how I found your blog, as I came into work today to google how someone else found it. I completely agree with your review. I think I enjoyed reading it – it was a world away from The Alchemist – but left me feeling unsure as to how I felt about, well, all everything really. The only character I particularly liked was Jasmine, and I was concerned he was going to kill her off, but although a horribly depressing ending, I couldn’t feel any sense of loss for these characters and it all felt really rather detached an unemotional, which surprised me because I normally get very attached to characters.

    But thank you for making me feel better – and Im glad I found your blog!

    • I’m glad you found the blog, too! I like to hear what others think of the books I review, particularly as I often find raving reviews about books I didn’t much care for, and vice versa! There was something very different in the way Coelho wrote “The Winner Stands Alone” and I still – months later – am undecided about it. I recommend it to my more cynical friends, I must admit!

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