Thursday, August 20, 2009

203. The Devil and Miss Prym – Paulo Coelho

History: Published in 2000.
Plot: For almost fifteen years, old Berta had spent everyday sitting outside her front door, watching over the little, idyllic village Viscos, occasionally talking with her deceased husband. She is waiting for the devil to come, as her husband has predicted to her. Then one day actually a stranger appeared with the intention of staying one week in the village.
Somewhere in the wood he buries a treasure – 11 bars of gold. On the way back he meets Chantal Prym, a young and rather beautiful barmaid, who is bored of the idyllic scenery and slow pace of life. Regularly she takes a fancy to passing tourists and easily seduces them to her bed in the hope that one of them, just one of them will prove to be her escape route. Miss Prym has edges, she's not wholly likeable, but the reader can also understand some of her frustrations. However the stranger shows her the buried treasure and promises that it will belong to the villagers if they agree to kill someone before the week is over.
From this moment on, there is a ferocious battle within the young woman; a battle between her angel and her devil. She sees in the gold the ticket to finally escape this hell, which is a paradise to others. Still, something holds her back.
After some days of hard thinking, she decides to tell her fellow men what the stranger has proposed, trusting that they will refuse. The people’s reaction to her the next day, however, plants the seed of doubt inside of Chantal. Now she fears for her own precious life. As an act of desperation, she plans to abandon Viscos with one of the stranger’s bars. Destiny though seems to have other plans with her, and therefore sends a rogue wolf, which threatens Chantal’s life. Luckily the stranger arrives, and both manage to escape. There they have a meaningful discussion which is able to keep his devil at bay for a while.
Meanwhile the villagers assemble in the church to choose their victim, in order to get the promised bounty. And it is the priest who actually makes the decision!. Their selected scapegoat was old Berta, for she was already old and life had to be a burden for her, after all her husband died of a hunting accident long ago.
Shortly before the villagers execute the poor old lady, Chantal makes a stand and persuades the inhabitants of Viscos what a great stupidity they are about to make. She proves them wrong about all their foolish dreams about the gold and convinces them that under no circumstances murder is justified. This way she gave the stranger the answer to his question, as well. Every human being embodies some evil and some good; our conduct is a matter of control and choice.
And also, the stranger gives her the gold because she’s shown him the truth and she can leave the village now rich.
Review: This book deals with great moral issues which I think are very relevant to our world today. The book tells of a moral conundrum inflicted on an insular village by a visiting stranger and then the impact this has on the behavior and thought processes of the community. It’s an allegory of the human life in some ways and I like that kind of thing.
Opening Line: “For almost fifteen years, old Berta had spent every day sitting outside her front door.”
Closing Line: “The old woman was right; there was no time to lose, though she hoped that her life would be very long indeed.”
Quotes: “If you want to control someone, all you have to do is to make them feel afraid.”
“Anyone who loves in the expectation of being loved in return is wasting their time.”
Rating: Good.

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