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PSIPOOK | books | the zahir, paulo coelho

Obsessive about obsession
Title: The Zahir
Author: Paulo Coelho
Publisher: Harper Torch
Price: ¥1,092
ISBN: 0-06-087535-6itle:

Paulo Coelho’s new novel is about obsession. We know that because it says “A Novel of Obsession” on the cover, and mentions the word on the back cover too in case we have gone straight there without stopping to read the front cover. Then the book devotes a prefacing note with an explanation (attributed to Jorge Luis Borges, so we know we are in the presence of cleverness here) that the title Zahir is an Arabic word for a person seized by obsession. There are also several other prefaces from classical and Biblical sources about, erm, obsession. So the book is about obsession. Are you paying attention back there?

The Zahir of the title is a hugely successful middle-aged author who writes books on spiritual themes that bear a striking resemblance to the stories that the hugely successful and middle-aged Coelho has written. Coelho has not named his protagonist so perhaps the similarity is a secret. Shhh!

The unnamed author’s young war correspondent wife goes missing in Paris. There is no particular reason for, or clue to, her disappearance; there are only lots of possibilities. We do know that shortly before vanishing she was in the company of a mysterious young hunk called Mikhail — aren’t they all!
Obsession number one: where did my wife go, and am I supposed to take this personally?

The clever thing here, and which you overlook at your own peril, is that the author character has another powerful obsession: himself. For a spiritual writer he spends a lot of time boozing, eating fine food, hopping in and out of bed with younger women, and enumerating earnings from book sales.

Perhaps what he has lost is not so much his wife as himself. A good yarn and an eyebrow knotter at the same time.

Kansai Scene, March 2006

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By the way, have you read Chris Page's novel Weed? It really is rather fantastic.

Words of praise for Weed from a publisher in London.

"... it’s really witty and very strong ... I would compare the writing to Robert Rankin, or a really satirically biting Tom Sharpe, and will say again that I’m really impressed by it"



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