#235 The Devil and Miss Prym

It would seem that all books containing a titled female in their name become intrinsically associated with Mrs Dalloway at first in my mind (although after finding Miss Pettigrew lives for a Day to be genuinely very good I have come to view such books with slightly less suspicion/contempt); The Devil and Miss Prym by Paul Coehlo is another book that seeks to correct this assumption. The titular “Miss” in this story is not (as I suspected) the old lady who sits outside her house all day watching the landscape around her, but a young barmaid at the hotel in the small town in which the book is set, Viscos. A better knowledge of European geography would have been helpful when this setting was introduced because I spent the rest of the novel wondering where exactly Viscos was (eventually I settled on either somewhere in Italy or entirely fictional) but turns out it’s in France, although I doubt that knowing exactly where it was would have enhanced my reading or altered anything – but I still spent a while puzzling over it (and unusually didn’t turn to google).
The Devil in the title arrives at the small village at the beginning of the novel, accompanying a stranger who quickly integrates himself within the community. Viscos is presented as a village where nothing ever changes: it is frozen in time. Crucially, there are no children there, with Miss Prym the youngest inhabitant (her friends all having left for bigger cities); and there is the distinct impression that the villagers are reluctant to bring about any change. The stranger seeks to change this immediately: he brings a bag of gold bars and, through Miss Prym, lets it be known that the village can have all the bars if they murder someone before his stay there is up.
A moral dilemma (obviously) ensues in the village as they decide what to do. This was a short book and a quick read and pleasant enough; as well as not knowing where Viscos was I also wasn’t entirely sure where the author was from or what the original language of this novel had been – I was almost sure it wasn’t English (I often find translations – particularly from French/Portuguese – I don’t actually know whether I’ve read any Spanish or Italian books to comment on them which is a bit bad – to have a slightly detached narration): again that wouldn’t necessarily have enhanced my reading (I probably would have ended up thinking Viscos was in Brazil).


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