One day, high above the mountains the small, rustic village of Viscos is visited by the devil. The devil comes with a question of morality: is humanity ultimately good, or evil? This question soon becomes a terrible test that will try the people of the village. The devil himself however is riddled with his own demons, as the very person he chooses to carry out his deadly bribe begins to question not only his motives, but manages to sow seeds of doubt into his heart. In the space of a week, an entire community makes the terrifying choice between life, death and power.
“A community devoured by greed, cowardice, and fear.
A man persecuted by the ghosts of his painful past.
A young woman searching for happiness.
In one eventful week, each will face questions of life, death, and power, and each will choose a path.
Will they choose good or evil?”
Will they choose good or evil?”
The first thing I should say about this novel is that although it’s an international bestseller and has a place in the 1001 book list, Coelho‘s earlier novels notably ‘The Alchemist’ and ‘The Valkyries’ are far better than ‘The Devil and Miss Prym’. I really shouldn’t be making comparisons, because the subject Coelho chooses to handle here, namely the age-old battle between good and evil, is not a topic that he focusses on in his other novels. The whole ‘good and evil’ theme is a difficult one. There are so many angles to consider, so many avenues to explore, because life often tests us in a myriad diferent ways. I’m sure Coelho was fully aware of this when writing.
I have also noticed that in recent years Coelho’s style, his way of writing has also moved on. ‘Brida’ and ‘The Witch of Portobello’ are indicators that he has disctanced himself from the mysterious suffusion of oriental Islam and Latin-American Christianity. Instead Coelho’s gaze has moved towards more European climes, and this is only natural since his pilgrimages are taking him further towards Russia and the Balkan states. With ‘The Devil and Miss Prym’ I found the village itself hard to place. Geographically it wants to be in South America and I did feel some Andean undertones, yet I was also quite surprised to find that Coelho might also be placing Viscos somewhere in Ireland. In other words, the village itself was neither here nor there and this made the plot feel slightly out of place. I never knew geography was so important to me, but seriously, it did seem to matter in this situation.
Coelho also likes to strip things down to their bare essentials and tell the story, not the people. I enjoy his uncluttered way of guiding his reader through events, of stopping to examine the same details for just the right length of time too. Coelho is a born story-teller, but I can say the ‘The Devil and Miss Prym’ does have a strange ending, it did not satisfy me enough. The most intriguing characters were the old lady who could see devils, the foreigner and the devil who comes to the village with the bribe. I honestly believe Coelho could have done more with this plot. It seems like he rushed it a bit. More planning and a tighter ending could have made this a far better story.
I give it 2/5 stars. Poor for a Coelho novel, but a must-read for die-hard fans like myself.