I am not a very fast reader but even for me, this book took awfully long to read. It didn't help that I was not able to read it in one or two long sittings. I started reading it a few weeks back and did a few pages each day, and unable to read on some days. Yesterday, I decided to sit down until I finished the book at any cost and there ended my beautiful Sunday. All morning, all afternoon, all evening and until 9PM at night, I read and I read and I read. My only consolation is that a friend of mine who has started reading the book a few weeks ago is facing the same fate.
When I first read the title, and Paulo Coelho's style being somewhat philosophical, I had assumed that this book might touch upon leadership qualities or talk about great success or great people. No such thing to look forward to in The Winner Stands Alone. If you have watched the movie Page 3, you will find a similar theme in there. The world of fashion and glamour.
The book starts off by introducing the protagonist Igor, whose wife has left him and who he tries to get back in his own twisted ways. The story is set in Cannes, at the time when the fashion and film world from across the globe has assembled there, for the famous Cannes Film Festival. Chapter after chapter, Coelho writes about the glamour world from various points of view, none of them pretty. He manages to convince you not only that all the glitter that you see is make-believe but every smile on every face of every celebrity might be fake.
He talks of struggling models, wannabe models, aged (read: 25 years and above) models, film directors and distributors. He talks of money laundering, drug trafficking, casting-couch (without saying so or giving it undue importance) and all the darkness in the world of glitz. As an outsider, it's hard for you to see what it is in this paint and show business that lures men and women by the thousands everyday. As I said earlier, a somewhat bookish version of the portrayal of the glamour industry, the "Superclass" and the rest as he calls it, on similar lines as Madhur Bhandarkar's movie Page 3.
Interwoven into all this is an even darker, more evil act of murder. Not once, not twice but as many times as it takes Igor to ensure that the love of his live, Ewa, "gets the message". Amidst the glory, the parties, the behind-the-stage scenes, the struggles, Igor is fighting his own battle as a lone soldier. There is a flashback that pops up from time to time, explaining his acts, justifying the need for his actions. Where there is murder, there is the police. There is their viewpoint of the Cannes, the festival, the Superclass, the murder and the murderer. And similar murders in the past.
Does Igor get caught? Does he manage to convey his message to Ewa? What happens between him and Ewa? If you have the patience to wade through pages of grease-paint, he eventually answers all these questions. Paulo Coelho maintains his style of writing and if you like that, you will make it through the book. However, you tend to come out of it feeling relieved that it is over rather than provoked by the reflections he makes. Yes, there is retrospection, no doubt. That's something Coelho does really well. In here, it is all dark.
I would not rate this as one of my favourite books. Yet, I cannot say I regret reading it. It's a Coelho, it's not bad. It's not the world's best. If you read it, it's not a time-waster but if you didn't, you've missed nothing.