Last night I finished reading Paulo Coelho’s The Witch of Portobello. I’m not going to lie: one night, inspired by the book, I turned up some music and danced alone as hard as I could. In the book, Athena dances for nearly an hour to get into her trance. I was done in about 15 minutes. To be completely accurate, I am known to dance like this from time to time, but this time, inspired by the book, I did it with more attention to my state of mind. It didn’t make me *not* meditative, but mostly—although I’ve been practicing Bikram and running three miles about four days a week—I was out of shape for that kind of dancing. Dancing hard for an hour every day would be great exercise (probably really good for my abs), but not something that I’ll do on a regular basis. I was actually surprised and heartened to realize that when it comes to exercise, I prefer running and Bikram. I prefer to dance for reasons other than exercise.
Coelho always has great characters and often bravely writes from the woman’s perspective. However, in the end, I often feel like his female characters are too helpless, that a male character always, ultimately, and subtly, saves the day. For example, in this book, the main character Athena and another important character, Andrea, don’t get along. They love each other and they learn from each other, but they don’t like each other. In fact, they really can’t stand each other. Jealousy and cattiness seem to be the only real reasons they don’t get along. Now, don’t get me wrong, I think that a story should be good and honest before it should be feminist, but I would love to see more books with female protagonists that actually go beyond the limiting stereotypes that are so often portrayed in female characters. Coelho is tricky though because Athena is a powerful woman, made real by her insecurities, and she leads what seems to be an authentic life very much on her own terms. So, that’s great, right? That’s empowering. And that’s something.