Saturday, August 18, 2007

#52 - The Devil and Miss Prym

As I revamped my Around the World in 52 Countries challenge to better fit with the 1001 Books list, the Paulo Coelho book that came off was The Zahir, which was replaced by his The Devil and Miss Prym simply to kill two goals with one stone. More parable than novel, The Devil and Miss Prym was intended to be the Brazil stop in my reading around the world, but as it's set in a small, mountainous French village named Viscos, it again proves the point that so many of my books are not set in the countries where the author themselves was born, and don't really tell me a whole bunch about life in his or her original setting.

Regardless, it's a short, swift read that focuses on the battle between good and evil. The devil, a fallen businessman who propositions the tiny enclosed town (population 281) into testing not only their faith but their very humanity, walks into Viscos and chooses the local barmaid Chantal (Miss Prym) to be his messenger. At once the entire town becomes aware of the man's plot: to prove that human beings are essentially bad by forcing them to murder a member of their village in exchange for gold.

A philosophical debate charges back and forth through the pros and cons of taking some one's life in exchange for the social and financial security offered by the gold. As the centre of the town's focus (blamed for bringing the terrible decision to them; gossiped about for the choices in her life; and sleepless over the problems her role in the decision creates in her life), Miss Prym moves through various emotions before coming to her own conclusions about the morality offered by this businessman haunted by the devil and his own tragedy.

It's been a while since I'd read anything where philosophy and theology were so cleanly mixed up in fiction. In fact, the last time I remember thinking about "big picture" ideas not over beer or cards, honestly, was in university, when I took quite a few philosophy classes. I'm not going to give away the ending but I would like to add that Coelho's simplistic prose and straightforward storytelling made this slim novel extremely compelling, even if I wasn't one hundred percent convinced of the story's moral and religious underpinnings.

Should it be included on the 1001 Books list? Well, I didn't enjoy it as much as I did The Alchemist, when I read it all those years ago after finishing my undergrad degree (you know that fairy tale time when you rediscover reading for reading's sake, sigh.) and I certainly think that there are far better novels out there (why is Margaret Laurence not on that list, seriously?), but I think I'm richer for having read it, if only to have done some thinking about the great never-ending battle between good and evil in my own infallibly human mind.

PHOTO IN CONTEXT: The cover of this book is grand, isn't it? Anyway, it's a close up snapped on the sun deck before leaving the cottage to come back to the city in a panic of "is it really over my extra-long weekend?"


Paula said...

Dear Hip Rag-Doll (I prefer Bionic Girl!),
I don’t know if you heard about his blog
Paulo Coelho's blog
I’ve started as a fan and now I’m collaborating with him and thought that you would like to enter his universe.
Check the blog, if you want, or subscribe to his newsletter
Warrior of Light Newsletter
You’ll see a community of warriors of light sharing ideas, dreams and most importantly following their personal legend.
Paulo really liked your post and would like to publish it on the 30th of August. Would you mind? In case you do, please write me on, ok?

The challenge will not wait. Life does not look back. A week is more than enough time for us to decide whether or not to accept our destiny.

See u there and have a great day!

Arukiyomi said...

I've got to tell you I love the photos you take of your books in context. That's really inspired me to do the same kind of thing. It makes it much more meaningful and memorable than simple scanning the cover in.

Funny... I had someone called Jorge post almost exactly the same comment as Paula did here on my review of this book. Coelho's fans seem a bit too proactive to me...