At any rate, I had signed up at meetup.com to go to a Reader's meeting of some sort and this was the book picked for the meeting. The meeting was only a week and a half away, and I've read thick books in shorter time than that, so I went to pick it up. "Veronica Decides to Die" by Paulo Coelho was only 210 pgs., with considerable gaps in between sentences and chapters that are only 1-2 1/2 pgs. long, so needless to say I finished it no time. But I will also venture to say that those circumstances are only a small percentage of the reason why I finished the book so fast, it was mainly because the writing, story, characters and thin plot combine to become an absolutely astonishing literary feat.
As the title of the book plainly states, the story starts with Veronica, a young girl in the "famously unknown" country of Ljubljana, Slovenia, wanting to end her own life by overdosing on sleeping pills 1) because she is at the end of her youth and from that point on everyday will just be a repeat of the last one and 2) everything was wrong in the world and there was nothing Veronica could do to turn it right, which made her feel powerless. After taking the pills and passing out, she wakes up in a mental hospital. A particular Dr. Igor, head of the hospital "because he thinks a lot before making a decision", explains to Veronica that she has done terrible, irreversible damage to her heart and only has a few days to live. It's from this point in her small fraction of living time that Veronica begins to explore the characters, feelings (emotional and physical) and events that make her question and doubt her own death wish.
Of course, being in a mental hospital, the theme of what it means to be insane/crazy is discussed from beginning to end. Theories about it's validity are put forth and Coelho intelligently interweaves the word into the context of various characters pasts, and shows what it means to them as well as what it will end up meaning to Veronica. The theme of "Impossible Love" is discussed: Preseren, a famous poet that has a statue created after him, had fallen in love with a little girl named Julia and only wrote poems to express his adoration for her. But never got her. Zedka, one of the patients in the hospital, had in the past gave up everything (including her own husband) to pursue a very unlikely relationship on the other side of the world with a man who was entirely too busy with his own life to take her seriously. This theme implied the feeling of despair, which also matched Veronika's situation.
The themes of transcendence, Slovenian independence, the financial perspective of the hospital, and the cause of insanity are also discussed in this remarkable narrative with intelligence and a certain accessible quality that is sometimes difficult to find in literary. They are all used to show a unique perspective of life at the brink of death.
" ' Then last night, I too asked myself what I was doing in this hospital.
And I thought how very interesting to be down in the square, at the Three
Bridges, in the marketplace opposite the theater, buying apples and talking
about the weather. Obviously, I'd be struggling with a lot of other
long-forgotten things, like unpaid bills, problems with neighbors, the ironic
looks of people who don't understand me, solitude, my children's complaining.
But all that is just part of life, I think; and the price you pay for having to
deal with those minor problems is far less than the price you pay for not
recognizing they're yours.' " (pg. 151)