“People only allow themselves the luxury of being mad when they are in the position to do so.” – Dr. Igor.
Content warning: This book explores human nature along with concepts like suicide, mental health, corruption within health care systems and the nature of madness itself.
This story follows Veronika, aged twenty-four and a few people that her life impacts before she dies. Veronika is the main character and has been contemplating the correct method and timing of her death for quite some time. We enter her story as she is committing the act of suicide; she believes that life is simply not worth living. Our main character has an ordinary life and an average job and never does anything unexpected. We are led to believe that we are introduced into her life as she is making the first life-altering decision that she has ever made.
When Veronika’s suicide attempt fails, she wakes up in a mental hospital — finding out that although she is alive at the moment, ultimately the attempt on her life succeeded. In just a week, her heart would fail. The damage she caused her body was too significant to be repaired. This premise is the setup of the book, would your viewpoint of life change if you knew you were going to die in a week? Coelho puts forth an interesting debate on whether or not life has more value or meaning when you know you will lose it. Themes of the book are based around what you would do with a life you know you will lose, in exploring this, he also touches on what makes a life worth living.
Coelho also likes to play with concepts of sanity within this book, the subject of institutionalization being near and dear to his heart; he was committed three times in his life. I think it is because of the author’s familiarity with the story and indeed with the real-life Veronika, (according to his book) that this book feels so personal. Coelho makes an effort to contrast the sanity of the insane with the insanity of the sane – this makes for an interesting and thought-provoking read.
We spend the majority of the story in Veronika’s POV, but we also explore some other character’s perspectives. Veronika’s POV tends to be quite cynical in regards to emotions. As the book continues, we begin to see a ‘crazier’ side to Veronika, and interest in living and pursuing passions. The characters all tend to have one thing in common; if they are crazy, they are holding themselves back from their life’s passion. Coelho seems to be making a very firm statement that insanity is linked with not pursuing the career or lifestyle that the individual was ‘called’ to pursue. There are examples of this within some of the other perspectives that we get to examine, I will not reveal who as I would like to respect the way this story unravels for the reader, I think it is an enjoyable discovery and I don’t want to hinder the way that this book would read to anyone. This book reads like a mystery; you are never sure who is insane, who is pretending and who is hiding.
The book is primarily focused on spreading the message -live life to the fullest doing what you desire and living from madness to madness in a way that most are afraid to. Coelho has an interesting way of making the sane sound insane and the insane sound sane. This is one of the joys of reading this book; you are never entirely sure who, if anyone, is in their right mind.
The book itself is written as a monologue, a stream of consciousness occasionally interrupted by dialogue and narrator perspectives.
Contribute to the conversation! If you’ve read or would like to read Veronika Decides to Die, please comment below and share the reviews, disagree with my evaluation of the book? Please let me know! Any book recommendations for future posts can be submitted in the comment section!