I have just read Eleven Minutes by Paulo Coelho
Coelho’s title is his guessimate of the time spent actually having intercourse during a sexual encounter. When I saw the title, I somehow intuited right away that’s what it was referring to. I have, out of curiosity, during the course of my life tried a couple of times check the clock to see how long actual intercourse lasted, but most times the last thing on my mind at the commencement of actual festivities was the stupid clock placed somewhere in the room facing the wrong way probably, and even if I did get that far, I would never remember to check the clock at the right moment afterwards. But I have been curious.
Of course, if there’s one thing the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries have emphasized it’s that there is no such thing as “normal” sex. So who knows what the best number is? Or if such a quantification is actually helpful.
Coelho’s best book, from all accounts, is his first, The Alchemist. The best thing I can say about Eleven Minutes is that it made me aware of Coelho (of whom I had not been), and led to me read The Alchemist, which was okay (that is, before the ending– which I felt really landed with a splat). I hope to post on that book soon.
From what I’ve gleaned from the two book jackets and from the contents of the two of his books I’ve now read, Coelho’s books are message books— the message being self-empowerment. I get the impression that there’s a huge audience out there which feels the need to be reminded that they are not victims. I long ago decided, in fact, that what most New Agey thought boils down to was empowerment, including extolation of the supposedly “female” virtues, such as intuition and a special connection to life and to Mother Earth.
As for Eleven Minutes, there are several messages, I think. The dominant one, especially given the title, is that too many of us allow our lives to made miserable by this crazy little thing called sex. As Coelho writes…
“Because of those eleven minutes” ... “they [men] got married, supported a family, put up with screaming kids, thought up ridiculous excuses to justify getting home late, ogled dozens, if not hundreds of other women” [actually, probably more like tens of thousands], and “sustained a vast industry of cosmetics, diet foods, exercise, pornography, and power.”
Coelho writes that “something was very wrong with civilization.” And that something is sex. People all to often allow themselves to be chained down by their sexual partners, to be held back; to be oppressed instead of uplifted by their relationships. His main character, Maria, states that “all my life, I thought of love as some kind of voluntary enslavement.” But she eventually realizes that where real love is present, there is actually freedom, not oppression. “The person who feels the freest, is the person who loves most whole-heartedly.”
Love is not about ownership. “No one owns anyone.” Thus, “no one loses anyone.”
Also, Coelho blends-in with his message against oppressive relationships his crusade against the victim mentality: “In love, no one can harm anyone else,” Maria writes in her diary. “We are each of us responsible for our own feelings and cannot blame someone else for what we feel.”
Coelho also addresses this issue of sadomasochism. He at first gives it a fairly sympathetic treatment, but then turns against it. He has one of his characters, Ralf, state that pain is addictive, that it can be “a very powerful drug.” He then raises the conversation from the plane of mere intercourse to that of our larger lives; he describes how, in our daily lives, we can become habituated to pain, addicted to it. We suffer from the sacrifices we daily make, often supposedly for the sake of love, and we mourn for the destruction of our dreams. Pain, says Ralf, is “seductive when it comes disguised as sacrifice or self-denial.” What he describes is the bittersweet suffering of the martyr complex that, in my own life, I have seen many a mother and wife cling to.
Many of us are convinced that we MUST suffer for love, say Ralf. The wife sacrifices for her husband. The husband labors for the wife. Parents give-up their lives for their children. Children give-up their own dreams in order to please their parents. The soldier dies for love of country. In this way, love, instead of bringing what it should bring– joy– brings instead pain and suffering.
Another message in the book, one apparently more general to most of Coelho’s works, is the message that people should not put off their dreams as they do. There is always– always!– an excuse to put off following your dreams. If we wait until have we have no good reason left for not pursuing our dreams, then death will certainly find us first.
Coelho insists, through his storytelling, that life is about CHOICES– choices we are empowered to make, and choices for which we must accept full responsibility.
As almost as a post-script, I should probably warn you that Coelho seems to have done some research on female sexuality, but when he tries to interject it into the narrative, it sometimes comes off as some of the most painful explication I’ve ever had the discomfort to read. When he starts having a character like “the librarian” rattle off a list of female sexual facts, it feels a bit like going over terms for an anatomy test.