The Bookcase Project – Book 14: The Witch of Portobello by Paulo Coelho

The Witch of Portobello by Paulo Coelho, HarperCollins, 2008


I have developed a bad habit, which I am determined to kick in the arse. It is the habit of finishing a book and not writing the review immediately, which has always been my best way of working. Now, I have a mountain of books to review and am struggling to give each one the attention that it deserves. I’ll give it my best shot though, hope for the best and learn from my mistakes.
Paulo Coelho is an outstanding writer, whom I admire and envy in equal measure. ‘The Witch of Portobello’ is a stunning novel, which has managed to – like all of Coelo’s books – alter something inside me, something extremely positive, which I can’t quite put my finger on. His writing is so generous with beauty, every sentence is carved into the finest form and each word earns its place. And the front cover – one of the most gorgeous front covers I’ve ever seen.
The story is about Athena, a unique, mysterious young woman, born in Romania and living in London, and is told by many different characters who have all encountered her throughout her life. I really appreciated this way of telling the story, the variation of voices broadened my focus and increased my enjoyment. It has a truly magnificent beginning.
“No one lights a lamp in order the hide it behind the door: the purpose of light is to create more light, to open people’s eyes, to reveal the marvels around. No sacrifices the most important thing she processes: love. No one places her dreams in the hands of those who might destroy them. No one, that is, but Athena.”


Coelho said that in writing the book, he wanted to ‘explore the feminine side of divinity’ and ‘plunge into the heart of the Great Mother.’ He was interested in the question of why society had tried to block out the feminine side of God. Athena is a character embodied by freedom, courage and strength, and Coelho admitted she embodies his feminine, compassionate side. The novel is about people who find the courage to move towards an alternative, spiritual path, people who are then labelled ‘witches.’ But Caelho says that a witch is someone who dares to go beyond, someone who celebrates love and life. Athena is one of these people and she changes lives through numerous different ways. One is through dance.

“A few days ago, you told me that dance puts you in touch with something stronger than yourself.”
“Yes, when I dance, I’m a free woman, or, rather, a free spirit who can travel through the universe, contemplate the present, divine the future, and be transformed into pure energy.”

I loved, loved, loved this book, and can’t praise it highly enough. There were so many moments for me, where the words had such significance, that I found it necessary to put it down for a moment or two, just so I could absorb what I had read. Put it on your immediate to read list right now.