Friday, 22 June 2012

Book review: The Shaman in Stilettos by Anna Hunt

My edition: Paperback, published in 2012 by Penguin Books, 450 pages.

Description: When celebrity journalist Anna Hunt takes a break from her glamorous, high-powered and fast-paced job to live in Peru for three months, none of her friends take her seriously.

A burn-the-candle-at-both-ends 29-year-old with a love of stilettos, chocolate, fast cars and Sauvignon Blanc, she seems to have it all, including a wealthy boyfriend and a comfortable pad in Marylebone. How will she manage in a Third World country?

Anna's quest takes her from the wilderness of the Amazon jungle where she drinks ayahuasca, one of the most mysterious and potent hallucinogens known to man, to a passionate affair with Maximo Morales, a disarmingly seductive and charismatic shaman who offers her the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to become his apprentice.

Anna embarks on what is to be an utterly exhilarating, life-changing journey of mysterious rituals and burning passion. Will she find the fulfilment and inner peace she craves? And how will she bridge her two worlds and bring the ancient healing arts home to 21st century London?

Rating:



The Shaman in Stilettos starts off as run of the mill chick-lit novel focusing on the glitz and glamour life of Anna Hunt, a celebrity journalist addicted to Green and Black's chocolate and shopping; she has a particular fondness of stylish stilettos.

However, the reader soon comes to realise that while Anna's life sounds very enticing, she is in fact bordering on the edge of a depression. Not her well-paid job, gorgeous boyfriend or her expensive flat in Marylebone can give her a feeling of satisfaction in her life and she realises it is time to temporality break away from the draining London atmosphere. It is time for a sabbatical in Peru.

South America is likely not the first place people think of as a revitalising destination, but it's the perfect location for Anna to rediscover herself and her needs. What follows is a fascinating journey of self discovery, which at times breathes a similarity to Elizabeth Gilbert's well-known novel Eat, Pray, Love (though without the mouth-watering descriptions of Italian food, alas, as The Shaman in Stilettos takes place in the depths of the Amazon jungle and there's only so many synonyms the author can use to describe plain rice meals).

Early on in her journey Anna falls head over heels for a mysterious medicine man named Maximo and instead of exploring Peru as she initially planned to do, she mainly stays in Cusco and gets sucked into the fascinating and rather magical world of Shamanism, chakras, crystals and energy, and on several occasions she even drinks ayahuasca (a potent hallucinogen) to open her mind. The story is not quite as ethereal as that though as it also explores Anna's complicated relationship with Maximo and the array of colour characters that come and go in the village of Cusco.

My one minor problem with the otherwise wonderful novel is that the persona of Anna as detailed within the book makes her possibly the least likely choice to become Maximo's apprentice. She comes across as quite a superficial woman, reliant on the comforts of the Western world, yet she doesn't shy away from using "toilets" in the jungle, showering in murky brown water and finding deadly creatures in her living quarters. She knows very little about the world of shamanism yet she instantly connects with the material. Maximo has never taken on an apprentice before yet he now promises to teach this woman who personifies the Western world. So although this is based on a true story, all this made it read slightly more fantastical than realistic at times.

Even after finishing the novel I do not think Anna was a very believable character to gain such a major turnaround in her life in such a short space of time. For an at first seemingly average First World person, with quite a narrow mind when it comes to exploring alternative ways of healing she seemed to undergo all the challenges she was given without much questioning or struggles.

Having said that, it was a very fascinating journey, both for the character and the reader, which certainly sparked my interest into Shamanism and I am usually quite sceptical of anything that I haven't witnessed with my own eyes. And for that alone I can certainly recommend the novel to those who would like to pick up something of substance. The book may be classified as chick-lit but it has far more depth and intrigue than a mindless holiday read.


Many thanks to Penguin Books for the review copy.

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