Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Review: The Devil and Miss Prym by Paulo Coelho

Book cover of The Devil and Miss Prym by Paulo Coelho
Veronika Decides to Die by Paulo Coelho was one of the first books I reviewed for this blog - it's also one of my favourites. I found it to be a moving tale of a young woman's reluctance to persevere with life and I was desperate to read as much of Paulo Coelho as I could. Only... I didn't. I finally picked up The Devil and Miss Prym last week, and although I didn't like it as much as Veronika, it's still well worth a read.

Plot summary: When a stranger arrives in an isolated mountain village, he brings with him a devilish offer: If anybody in the town is murdered within a week, every surviving resident will receive a fortune in gold. His evil instigation throws the townspeople into a moral tailspin that ends with a major plot surprise.
It's a very simple concept, the likes of which can be found in any of those 'What would you do?' books. A stranger arrives at a sleepy village high in the mountains and shows the disillusioned barmaid, Miss Prym, a bar of gold he has hidden in the woods and tells her of another nine nearby. She must inform the townsfolk of his offer - if one person in the village is murdered by the end of the week, the village will receive the ten bars of gold. 

This book is based around choices, two of them. The first is Miss Prym's - she can choose to steal the one gold bar she knows the location of and run off to the city to pursue her dreams. This would not only help her live the life she always dreamed of, but also protect her neighbours from having to make an agonizing decision. On the other hand, the more moral choice would be to not steal the gold, and not to tell the villagers of the stranger's offer so that all concerned could preserve their moral integrity. However, should Miss Prym start down this path, the stranger has promised that he will inform the citizens himself and they will likely resent the barmaid for hiding this information and choose her as the sacrificial victim.

The second choice is obviously that of the villagers - whether they should accept the gold offered to them to save their dying village and murder an innocent inhabitant, or let their home wink out of existence, but stay on the side of righteousness.

Paulo Coelho is an immensely talented author who somehow manages to get right inside the heads of his characters. He did it magnificently with Veronika, and he does the same with the stranger who is trying to convince himself there is still good left in the world and with Miss Prym, who is facing the most terrifying decision she has ever had to make. Somehow, nobody in the book felt to me like a bad person - some were unlikeable, yes, but that's a completely different story. I know lots of people I dislike, but aren't necessarily 'bad.' But then, what is 'bad' after all?

To me, the essence of this book is good vs evil, and that perhaps it's not always as clear cut a choice as it seems. And yes, there have been many books on this topic already, but not like this one. This is a very specific, very personal look at what people can do when pushed. Religion occasionally comes into it, as does the Devil, but it's more in a spiritual way than a churchy way.

My only complaint is the 'major plot surprise' mentioned in the Amazon summary. That is to say, there isn't one. Although I admit that this is a fault of the blurb not the book itself, the story does seem to just kind of... fade out a little. It wasn't rounded off as well as perhaps it could have been.

Still, I really enjoyed reading it and I'm looking forward to reading the six books I bought in a Paulo Coelho boxset last week. If you're considering starting one of this author's books, I'd start with either Veronika or this one.

Visit Paulo Coelho's website here, or read my review of Veronika Decides to Die.


  1. You've got me interested here. I wasn't that impressed by 'The Alchemist' but I did QUITE like 'By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept'. I think I might have to give this one a whirl at some point... Dammit! :P

  2. I just finished The Devil and Miss Prym, and must admit I was somewhat disappointed. It just kind of....ended. Needed a bit more closure, for my tastes.

  3. I love Paulo Coelho's books... but this isn´t my favorite... :)


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