The Devil and Miss Prym is the final instalment in Paulo Coelho’s On the Seventh Day trilogy. It’s kind of a halfway house for me; it’s nowhere near as unbearable as By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept, and yet it’s also more anger inducing than Veronika Decides to Die. More than anything, it’s incredibly infuriating, and I wanted to scream with frustration by the time I reached the end (and it’s not even that long a book!).
The Devil and Miss Prym basically consists of a moral dilemma. A stranger arrives in a small village and buries a hoard of gold bars in the woods. He tells Chantal Prym, the barmaid, that he will give the gold to the villagers to share if they commit a murder within the week. If the villagers don’t commit a murder, he will give some gold to Chantal. The aim of the exercise is for the stranger to discover whether there was any justification behind terrorists killing his family. He believes people are inherently evil, Chantal believes people are inherently good; the gold test is to be the big decider.
It’s an interesting dilemma and things get a little sinister as the villagers consider murdering old Berta, a lonely widower who, as the most elderly resident of the village, probably doesn’t have long left to live anyway. There’s clearly a moral to be had from the story, but as the gold was given in the end anyway I’m rather confused about what the message is. A lot is made of angels and devils sitting on people’s shoulders and trying to sway their decisions, and everything does get rather goddish (probably to be expected from Coelho), but again, I’m rather baffled about what Coelho’s trying to say. Is everything part of God’s pre-destined plan? Or is the idea of a pre-destined plan just a way for people to justify all of their actions, including their sins? Is God to blame for Man’s sins? Or is God just an excuse that individuals can point the finger at for the way they’ve chosen to live their own lives? You can see why I wanted to scream. That’s what I find so irritating about Paulo Coelho, nothing is ever clear cut. I could just about put up with his religious waffle (obviously that’s not the same as buying it), if I felt it was really being put to purpose. Perhaps he’s just trying to get people to think in a more open-minded way and consider lots of different possibilities, but there’s a difference between encouraging a questioning nature and being downright vague. That’s one of the reasons I’m so uncomfortable with religion, it’s such an ambiguous concept that it can be manipulated in so many different ways. From the perspective of a good yarn, The Devil and Miss Prym is okay. I did want to find out the resolution and I was genuinely intrigued to see which way the villagers would sway. But if Coelho’s expecting me to take away anything more profound from the book, or from the trilogy as a whole, then I’m afraid he’s failed miserably.