The Witch of Portobello is an intriguing novel from Paolo Coelho that was more interesting than the previous Coelho novel I had read. Written as a series of interviews, different people talk about their relationship to the main protagonist, the “witch” in the book’s title who has been found dead in an unsolved murder.
Athena is a Romanian orphan brought up by well-to-do Lebanese parents who later emigrate to London. She marries young, has a child, divorces and later leaves her bank job to sell land in the Middle East. While on a trip to Romania to her mother’s hometown, she meets an Irish doctor who is versed in a mysterious form of worship and becomes her mentor. Athena becomes caught up in this worship, which she often expresses through uninhibited dance, attracts an older journalist and then becomes a teacher to his actress girlfriend. Athena’s “workshops” become popular and attract a following, until things threaten to get out of hand and they do.
The book gets more interesting as it progresses and as Athena’s story becomes clearer. It’s a story of how one can follow one’s dreams and inspire people. It is at times abstract and idealistic, which is a characteristic of Coelho books, or at least the three I’ve read. As Athena’s death is made clear right at the beginning, I had a sense of anticipation and growing curiosity about how it would happen. The ending is rather strange, to say the least, and one which I wasn’t that satisfied with.