Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Devil and Miss Prym (Ulysses Survival Reading #4)

Author: Paulo Coelho
Narrator: Linda Emond
First Published: 2000
Source: Library
Challenge(s): From 1001 List

Personal Enjoyment Factor: 3/5

Only 16 pages left of Ulysses!!! I suppose I should just go on and finish, but I need a little break from Molly's "sentence". It reminds me of the 80's song "88 Lines About 44 Women" by The Nails, only it's probably 2,000 lines and (mostly) about men.  Molly has taken TMI to a whole new level in this novel, which I didn't think was possible.  I had no idea Joyce was holding out a little grossness to spring on me in the end.  

Thus I find myself wanting to share some thoughts on this short tale of Paulo Coelho's simply because it is quite the opposite of Ulysses.  Where Joyce's writing is earnestly complicated, and seems to avoid any inkling of a moral, Coelho's goal is simplicity, and to convey a message that will have some sort of uplifting effect upon the reader.  

In the case of The Devil and Miss Prym, the question explored is whether mankind is inherently good or evil.  A man with a tragic past comes to the small village of Visco, and promises a large amount of gold to the village if they will agree to murder just one person.  Discussions and justifications follow, as the people of the town decide if and who will be sacrificed for the future prosperity of Visco, or in some cases, for their own selfish gains.

In the end, the predictable message is that each individual chooses between good and evil within, rather than mankind as a whole being one or the other.  Our choices can be influenced by fears of loneliness, punishment, failure, or loss of reputation, but ultimately we are responsible for our own choices. Forgive me, but my main thought upon finishing this was "Duh!"   Am I taking it for granted that most people feel this way already, or do I live in a bubble?

Whatever the case, I found the story interesting even if it was not paradigm-shifting.  I find myself underwhelmed by Coelho, but it may just be a case of inflated expectations.  On the back flap of the book cover, it says "Paulo Coelho is one of the most beloved authors of our time.  With sales of more than 75 million copies worldwide, his books have been translated into 61 languages and published in 150 countries."  With all of that fanfare, I think I just expect more of something.  Not just a reinforcement of something I already believe, expressed through a story that I found somewhat unbelievable.

Did Joyce care about whether mankind was good or evil?  I've done such a superficial reading of Ulysses that I can't be sure, but the overall feeling I get is that mankind is what it is, and that's all there is to it.  We live, we think, we die.   At least that's what I've gotten from the first 917 pages...


  1. I'm a fan of PC, but I must admit, I find his non fiction to be far more insightful and powerful than his fiction - although I wouldn't have said that when I first started reading him. I'm really impressed you're reading Ulysses too, that's one that I'm happy to say I'm not going to challenge myself to read!

  2. I had a huge PC phase in my late teens but now he just, as you put it very well, "underwhelms me". He takes his moral punchlines too far. it would be better to show and not tell, or to come up with plots that sound less like metaphores.

  3. This is not a Coehlo I have read -- but it doesn't sound like I really need to. He goes back to the same themes quite a lot. I can't wait to hear your final thoughts on Ulysses!

  4. I can't remember the name of the Coehlo book I read (what ever was the one that every one else loved) and I didn't care for that one at all. Doesn't sound like this one would be much better for me.

  5. Great review. The only Coelho I've read is The Alchemist, and I wasn't very impressed. It's been compared a lot to The Little Prince, which I liked more. :)

  6. First--huge kudos to you for sticking with Ulysses! After I ditched my copy months ago I kind of lost track of who was still participating.

    Second--I agree with you regarding the choices and individuality of good and evil. The only Coelho that I've read is The Alchemist and I found it to be a big "duh" of a book!

    Sorry to have missed you during the readathon. Hopefully in the fall! ;)

  7. Hello there, just stumbled across...

    You're almost done with the great U! Good on you for persevering. I mean to re-read this one day.

    I struggled with my first Coelho, but promise to give him another chance.

  8. I'm not a fan of Coelho either. I read The Alchemist last year and decided it was completely overrated. I don't think I'll try any of his other titles, especially after reading your thoughts on this one.

  9. Hi, I'm not a fan of PC either. Like Brenna, I was disappointed with The Alchemist. I liked your review of the book though :) Well done on getting through Ulysses. i had a go at it last year and stopped a third of the way through. I have promised myself I'll start again this summer, can't leave a book unfinished!

  10. I expected more from him as well and didn't really like this one. He had a great premise but it all felt flat since it was all so mundane. His writing was simple, but not subtle and I felt like I was being preached to the whole time.