The Devil and Miss Prym
by Paulo Coelho
Moral fiction. 205 pp.
Harper Perennial. 2007. (Original copyright 2000.)
I finally have a book to review here where I won't feel like all I can do is bitch about this or that fault with it. Which is not to imply that this book is perfect. Because I doubt it is. I guess it's just nice to find a book that is substantially well-written that its qualities don't go offending my.
But, then, I've always liked Coelho.
Anyway, the basic plot:
A stranger arrives at the remote village of Viscos, carrying with him a backpack containing a notebook and eleven gold bars. He comes searching for the answers to a question that torments him: Are human beings, in essence, good or evil? In welcoming the mysterious foreigner, the whole village becomes an accomplice to his sophisticated plot, which will forever mark their lives.So, the stranger's basic plot is this: He will be in the village for a week. He has ten gold bars that he'll give to the villagers if they break the commandments and murder someone before he leaves. The eleventh gold bar he'll give to Chantal Prym if she breaks the commandments and steals the gold bar which he has shown her where it is buried. Oh, and she has to reveal to the town what they must do to get the gold. So everyone is thrown into moral quandaries where they must decide, essentially, what they are willing to sell their souls for. It's a fascinating read. You get a little bit of Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" and a little bit of C. S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters and a whole lot of beautiful writing.
And I guess that's what I liked about the book: the simplicity of the writing. I don't know how much of its beauty was Coelho's and how much of it was the English translators', but it was just beautiful to read. I want to be inclined that it was primarily Coelho, especially when considering that in an interview with him at the end of the book, he starts the description of whi writing process with "I only write once every two years because I allow the book to be written in my mind before I start to type it out." If only other authors would take time to truly write instead of cranking out a book or two a year.
I also liked how he tied in a variety of traditions about how good and evil came into existence in the world. And there was the way he seamlessly inserted storytelling. It was all just so beautiful. Though it's been years, I remember that this was how I responded to The Alchemist. In fact, I still count The Alchemist as one of my favorite novels, though I remember less and less o the actual content.
I think that, in the end, I respond to Coelho the way that every Mormon I know responds to C. S. Lewis. Personally, I've never really gotten into Lewis because I think he's far too didactic. And his style kinda sucks, even if he does pull off some poignant phrases here and there. I guess Lewis is too much of an apologist for me. I like Coelho because he seems to pull from a larger picture.
I need to read more Coelho. I feel compelled to read more. Part of that compelling feeling is from this bit that the marketing department stuck in the back:
With each of his beautifully crafted works Paulo Coelho has mapped out a literary pilgrimage. By encouraging Wisdom [The Alchemist], Humility [The Pilgrimage],Hope [The Valkyries], Forgiveness [By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept], Redemption [Veronika Decides to Die], Courage [Warrior of the Light], Love [Eleven Minutes], Obsession [The Zahir], and Temptation [The Devil and Miss Prym], his writing transports us to the sacred place that the best books create between reader and text. It is a journey which proves that great literature has the power to influence lives.