The Brazilian Coelho, whose inspirational fables have sold about 50 million copies in 150 countries in 57 languages, at times persuades reviewers with his talent but often is seen as gucky and spiritually challenged.
Here, he returns to a theme first picked up in By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept (1996), a tale in which sex and God are whipped into a tasty mayonnaise. Eleven Minutes, while reminding us that sex is sacred, is more persuasively written, perhaps because it feels taken from a real life. Coelho says his story was born when a prostitute named Maria (or Sonia) approached him and asked if he knew what it was like to live without love. The novel’s Maria learns of sex through masturbation, first as a child and later as an adolescent. When she loses her virginity (at 16 or 17), she finds self-sex more satisfying and heavenly than intercourse, although she forces her deflowerer to return and make love to her several more times. Nope, solo’s better—though loveless. At 19, she takes a job at a draper’s shop, strings her lovelorn boss along for raises while putting him off from her bed. Love only makes you suffer, so forget it. A vacation on the beach in Rio leads to her being signed as a Samba dancer and flown to Geneva, where she dances in a family restaurant but is a prisoner, gets fired, gives her photo to model agencies, trusts in her own intelligence, charm and willpower, but in the end, guiltlessly, becomes a well-paid regular prostitute at Geneva’s expensive Copacabana. But is she frigid—or will the artist Ralf Hart, as uninterested in sex as she, discover the eleven minutes she needs from the commencement of sex to orgasm (an idea Coelho adapts from Irving Wallace’s The Seven Minutes)?
Down-to-earth dialogue and detail about classy whoring: one of Coelho’s strongest.