By Chet Yarbrough
Every life is a world. Paulo Coelho’s The Winner Stands Alone magnifies the ephemeral nature of being rich, poor, famous, unknown, powerful, or powerless.
An atheist would conclude that in life, we stand alone; in death, we die alone. Coelho suggests something significantly different in his ending; i.e. we stand or die alone with either a good angel or a bad angel. It seems Coelho believes human existence is a fulfillment of destiny.
The Winner Stands Alone is a love-it or leave-it experience. If it is a first exposure to Coelho, a reader will likely leave it. It is a dark tale, cleverly written about the world of glitz, glamour, fame, and fortune. Set in Cannes during Festival, the vacuity of fame, fortune, glitz and glamour are stripped bare. Cannes is where aspiration and success mingle.
The cleverness of Coelho’s story is in short chapters that steadily reveal an evil protagonist’s amoral, nihilist belief; i.e. a belief that existence has no objective meaning or intrinsic value. His name is Igor, a Russian millionaire. Igor is a soldier of fortune with skill of a killer, passion of a romantic, and intelligence of a savant. Igor lives by instinct, like a leopard with a human brain. He creates a demented plan to recover the love of his ex-wife.
Igor’s plan is to destroy worlds to demonstrate depth of love for a woman who has abandoned him. Igor murders several of Cannes’ rich attendees and one poor shop girl with each victim losing their life; i.e. their personal world of experience and existence. Igor sends IMs to his ex-wife at the end of each murder. Each destroyed world punctuates Igor’s arrival and pending reunion with lost love. The reunion caps Coelho’s story.
An aspiring Cannes’ police detective recognizes a serial murderer is at work before Igor’s reunion takes place. Coelho recounts former serial murderer’ cases to reveal common threads of intent. Igor’s intent is seen by the detective as a message that, once delivered, will stop serial killing at the Cannes’ festival. This paradoxically offers some solace to the Cannes’ police department and elected officials; the murders will end–good for the city, but not for current or future victims.
What may keep a reader reading is the desire to know how the story will end. Will Igor be caught? A casual reader will be surprised. What if human existence is only a fulfillment of destiny?