Holley Hyler is an IT consultant and published freelance writer living in New York.
An Exploration of Bland Routine and Unpredictable Passion
This book may not be so underrated, as it is a #1 International Bestseller. Coelho has a knack for telling stories that encourage the reader to think deeply and draw their own conclusions. This one takes an interesting look at depression, infidelity, and the meaning of true love.
The narrator of the story is named Linda, and she thinks she may be depressed. She is extremely self-aware. She says that she has no logical reason to be depressed; she has a wonderful husband, children, is financially well-off, and works as a journalist. She enjoys her work, even if it is a bit boring at times, but she does get to interview some interesting people. One of these people is a politician named Jacob König, Linda's ex-boyfriend from high school. The interview itself is not particularly interesting, but Linda plays her part. Afterward, Jacob suggests that they get together some time. Linda accepts, and he kisses her. She gives him oral sex, not fully understanding why, but purely going off her instincts.
Later, she does her best to act normal for her colleagues and her family. However, an act that she thought meant nothing, that was induced by boredom, was deeply meaningful in retrospect. "Now I'm mad with desire, needing a man, needing to be kissed, and needing to feel the pain and pleasure of a body on top of mine." Sex with her husband, which normally bores her, excites her after her transgression. The rest of the story is an exploration of love, living fully, and toeing the line between routine and passion.
Bonding Through Depression and Addiction
Jacob and Linda meet for lunch and realize they have some things in common - the most important of which is their unhappiness. Similar to Linda, Jacob has a life that looks great on paper, and he does not seem to fully understand why he is not happy. While Jacob at first comes across as shallow and political, he manages to charm Linda through this commonality and deeper conversation after they have a few drinks. By the end of the meeting, Linda realizes she is in love with him. It is a dangerous realization, for both of them are married, and Jacob's wife is a formidable character.
As we learn more about Jacob's history, it is evident that he lives for approval. "Since I depend on the approval of so many people, I am filled with self-loathing when I haven't resolved this or that problem," he says. He cannot even seek psychiatric or medical help for his stress and unhappiness, because if the people got wind of it, it could ruin his reputation. This belief is encouraged by his wife. He has turned to alcohol, cigarettes, and sex for therapy instead, but he is not supposed to reveal any of those things to the public either. His wife seems to know of his affairs.
After their first outing for lunch, it seems that the two don't manage to have many more deep conversations. Their relationship becomes purely sexual until Jacob is altogether too nervous about what others might think to continue it.
Love vs. Addiction
As Linda continues to meet with Jacob throughout the book, their encounters are not so much like the first lunch they had with deeper conversations, but become purely sexual. When Linda senses Jacob's emotional and physical withdrawal from her, she thinks of how she can get his wife out of the picture and considers framing her with a large amount of cocaine. Ultimately, she doesn't go through with it, but leaves the cocaine with Jacob during their last meeting (which must be the last, because of the scene his wife causes near the end of the story).
Was it love between Jacob and Linda, or was it merely an addiction? The story suggests that it could be both. But Jacob's need for approval - and to keep his marriage together, despite his unhappiness - means that whatever love he may feel for Linda will always be blocked. He is afraid to be his true self.
Linda's husband seems to provide the purest, most redeeming love. He comes to know some of what has transpired, but continues to love his wife through it. They stay together. It is his love that gives Linda the strength to end things with Jacob and know her own self-worth.
A Return to Wholeness
This story explores the concept of relationships as our mirrors. The relationship that Linda has with Jacob causes her to see more of her shadow side, her destructive self, while the one with her husband brings her back to her goodness and wholeness. But sometimes we need the contrast to appreciate the good. And, of course, it is possible to be in love with more than one person, even within the confines of marriage. Of course, those who are drawn to Coelho's work probably already know these things, but they are made fresh by the way the story is written. There is so much meaning within the writing that it may be impossible to grasp it all within one reading. Unfortunately, I have only had time to go through it once, so this review may not catch all that there is to see.
The ending was not what I expected, but it made perfect sense. In it, Linda goes paragliding with her husband and has a moment as she is flying where she feels connected with the Creator, with everything that is. I believe that sense of oneness is what we are all looking for through the things we deem as bad - especially through addictions, whether they be to substances or sex. We want to return from where we came, and addictions can provide a way for us to be in that state of mind, even if only for a short time. They can help us to numb or block out the things that keep us in a state of disconnect and separation.
Buy the Book
© 2018 Holley Hyler