Why did I pick up this book?
Last week, I found myself sprawled on the floor of my friend Liz’s London flat, perusing the books on her bookshelf. Our friendship, which goes back to grade 6, has revolved almost entirely around books. As I dragged a finger over the titles, I came across two books by Paulo Coelho. The first, The Alchemist, I read in high school and absolutely adored (though I’m afraid to reread it now for fear of changing my opinion). Beside it was this book: Eleven Minutes. “I don’t really remember why I picked that one up or what it’s about,” Liz said. I glanced at the blurb on the back. “It’s a story about a Brazilian prostitute in Switzerland,” I said. “Hmm,” Liz replied, “you can take that one if you want to.”
An adults-only fairy tale
The word sex is mentioned directly on the book cover four or five times, so we can safely assume that this will be a major theme throughout the novel. And it’s clear that this is what Coelho wants to talk about; the build-up of the story unfortunately suffers for it. Coelho spends little time developing protagonist Maria’s early life and relationships. Instead, he simply tells us about them, expecting the reader to accept and move on to the juicier bits of the novel. The book is a calm, gentle read. The Washington Post was spot-on with its book-jacket quote, “an adults-only fairy tale.” Because it reads like a tale told to children. Coelho seems bent on instructing the reader in the complex ways of sex, even if it means writing unrealistically self-aware characters.
With a grain of salt
As a reader, you have to go into this novel with the right mindset. If you are looking for complex, realistic characters, go elsewhere. If you are looking for believable plot and dialogue, go elsewhere. If you’re looking for an exploration of sensuality and the meaning of human physical relationships and don’t mind a strong dose of authorial judgment, this is the book for you. One thing Coelho does well, and that all of us writers can take away from his writing is sex scenes. In Eleven Minutes there are a couple of explosive scenes (including some BDSM) that never once struggle for ways to say “penis” or “vagina”. He *gasp* uses the actual words. It was also interesting to see a focus on sexual technique and a discussion of how plenty of women struggle to experience orgasm from penetration (a nice change from the more idealistic versions of sex many romance novels present). This may be the only realistic part of the novel, however.
And so, for the good sex and the interesting discussion of sensuality, 3/5 stars.