Monika talks about Paulo Coelho’s Veronika Decides To Die, a novel which questions society’s views and definitions of normality.
This story has been shortlisted and published for our June ‘As You Write It’ writing theme: The Book That Hooked Me.
Monika, in her own words: I am an English teacher, short story writer and poet. I have authored several series of English course books. My short stories and poems have been published in various collections. I am currently writing a couple of novels based on my experiences as a cancer survivor and a period drama set in 18th Century Awadh.
Paulo Coelho’s novel, Veronika Decides to Die is the book that hooked me. Not for the spiritual philosophy that marks Paulo Coelho’s other novels, but for the insights into the psychology of a disturbed girl and for the inversion of values which seem to be propagated in it.
Veronika is a beautiful girl who attempts suicide, but is saved and finds herself in Villete, a mental hospital in Slovenia. She meets other patients there who have been incarcerated for various digressions from the norm. The stories of each of the patients are riveting as the norms of society seem to be more bizarre than those who are termed abnormal. What is interesting is the fact that is brought home to us by Coelho that it is merely a different perspective that a few of us take to a situation in life. Such people see and interpret things differently and also do not care that they do so. That is why they are termed mentally disturbed.
Zedka has clinical depression, Mari suffered from panic attacks and Eduard was a schizophrenic, but they are so well adjusted in the environs of Villete that the author says that they have that inner calm because they can be what they truly are without masking their selves in the hospital. They can also say and do what they want without having to worry what others would think of them. I cannot help but think how liberating such a place would be! One has nothing to lose and one can experience all emotions to the fullest. Thus, it is ironical that a mental hospital is an ideal place to be in for those who dare to think and act differently.
The book has liberated me to the extent that I feel that such conditions can be created in our own homes and outside the mental asylum as it needs a person to dare to bare one’s soul and live life on his or her own terms. The subtle nuances of human psychology has been beautifully described by the master storyteller and one is carried along with the flow of the story.
The end of the story has the surprise element of Veronika leaving the hospital and Villete’s head psychiatrist coming to a conclusion in his innovative experiments and research on the mechanism and chemical imbalances of the human brain.
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