"On 11 November 1997, Veronika decided that the moment to kill herself had--at last!--arrived": so begins Paulo Coelho's extraordinary new novel, Veronika Decides to Die. Renowned for the international success of The Alchemist, Coelho has secured his reputation as an outstanding storyteller and a key figure in world literature (his work has been translated into over 40 languages). Translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa, Veronika Decides to Die is a compelling story of a woman's struggle with and against life, told with Coelho's wit, subtlety and economy. On the track of whatever it is that makes life worth living, Coelho plots Veronika's fate with infinite care, weaving the mystery of her decision to take her own life into the themes of national identity--Veronika is a citizen of Slovenia, "that strange country that no one seemed quite able to place"--and madness.
Veronika does not die; instead, she wakes up in Villette--the "famous and much-feared lunatic asylum"--only to be told that, having damaged her heart irreparably, she has just a few days to live. What she faces now is a waiting game and the strange world of Villette: the rules and regulations which govern the lives of its inmates and the doctors who treat them. Coelho's question may be a familiar one: crudely, who, or what, is mad? But his fiction is a remarkable, sometimes chilling, response to it. "Everyone has an unusual story to tell" is the starting-point of the new treatment initiated at Villette by the enigmatic Dr Igor; it's also the insight from which this book takes off to explore the impact of a "slow, irreparable death" on a young woman and the mad men and women around her. --Vicky Lebeau