the devil and miss prym

I have had Paulo Coelho’s The Devil and Miss Prym on my bookcase for more than ten years—I remember buying it new before I went off to college—and it only ended up taking me two days to read. (DERP!) When I signed up for my reading challenges this year, I knew The Devil and Miss Prym would be included on one of them, and the themes fit perfectly with the KC Public Library’s While the City Sleeps program.

One day, a stranger arrives in the sleepy village of Viscos after having buried eleven gold bars in the neighboring forest. The stranger meets Chantal Prym, the hotel bartender, and tells her that he will give the townspeople the gold bars but only on one condition: that they murder one of their fellow citizens. Chantal is beside herself and weighs her options and the consequences of each. Eventually, the residents are presented with the stranger’s proposal, and make their fateful decision.

The Devil and Miss Prym is simple yet intricate fable about a man who seeks answers about good versus evil in human nature; a woman internally conflicted with boredom, temptation, and right versus wrong; and a society faced with a complicated moral dilemma. The gold bars would mean prosperity and growth for the community, but is the cost of a human life—one of their lifelong neighbors and friends—really worth it? Who should they chose? Why is that life expendable? What will happen to the people and the town afterwards, in their hearts and souls?

The Devil and Miss Prym is full of stories, from character histories to town legends, and philosophical discussions of religion and spirituality. I enjoy Coelho’s toned-down narrative style, and it was effective with a complex, profound themes such as this. I felt sorry for Chantal, all of a sudden having the unenviable responsibility of basically saving the town from itself, but I was cheering for her by the end. This short book is memorable for its well-developed characters and highly thought-provoking subject matter.

I have read two other Coelho books, The Alchemist and By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept. From what I remember of it—I read them soooo long ago—I felt more strongly about The Alchemist, but I have to admit I sadly can’t recall anything about By the River Piedra.

The Devil and Miss Prym was my second read of five books total for the 2013 KC Library Adult Winter Reading Program: While the City Sleeps, hosted by the Kansas City Public Library.

Read from January 16 to 17, 2013.

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