Paulo Coelho's newest offering is ideal for fans. 'The Witch of Portobello' is a blend of all the magical, spiritual, mystical and religious elements his fans love so much. This writer has sold over 75 million books worldwide and is admired and loved as a great writer and a man of a gentle spiritual nature.

Ths story itself details the life of a woman called Athena, the eponymous Witch, a woman who was born in an orphanage in Romania. Adopted into a wealthy middle-eastern family, the book follows her life to London and beyond, as she undergoes a mystical journey of self-discovery.

However, this is no simple biography. Athena's story is pieced together from first hand accounts of people that knew her before her mysterious death: lovers, friends and family, teachers, witches and gypsies, doctors, journalists and actresses.This central character guides people to explore their identities on this plane and on a supernatural one.

The novel explores the idea of witchcraft from a modern perspective. Whilst witches may have been burned at the stake in times gone by, nowadays such acts would never be tolerated or condoned. So witches can work freely amongst us. Not for the power of evil, necessarily, but for the power of change. It is this concept that Coelho focuses on. How would or do witches affect this current age?

Sexuality, in many different forms is also crucial to the book; the exploration of its results and the the desire for its acquistion. This power is infuenced by the force of the Mother. That is to say, God - but in its female incarnation.

'The Witch of Portobello' is challenging and rewarding. Those interested in matters of the spirit would be advised to give it a go, or to delve into the earlier works of Coelho, most notably 'The Alchemist', a wondeful read. However, those who are not inclined to enjoy books on spiritual journeys should definitely avoid this one.

'...Witch' is a powerful read. A read, that if one allows oneself to question the ideas it provokes, will provoke more in turn.

Tadhg Peavoy

Buy 'The Witch of Portobello' by Paolo Coelho from the RTÉ eShop here.