The Devil and Miss Prym

I'm not a huge fan of Paulo Coelho, but I liked this novel and parable for the playfulness in its tug-of-war between good and evil. It's set in a kind of microcosm, Viscos, a remote village in south-western France. And the devil comes to town alongside a "stranger" who gives himself the name Carlos. Carlos meets the young barmaid Chantal Prym, who longs to ditch her small-town life and pursue a grander existence. Enter, next, a bunch of gold bars. Enough not only for Chantal to net her dreams but also for the whole village to thrive for generations, and even build a park where future kiddies can play. There's a catch though. The stranger will give his gold away only if one of the village folk is murdered. Anyone will do, and if Chantal plays along, by helping the stranger to carry out this social experiment, she'll get a whole bar to herself, regardless of whether or not the town pulls their shotgun triggers. Carlos is doing this because his family, while he worked as an arms dealer, was kidnapped then killed, and he's aiming to reinforce his conviction that all mankind is evil deep down, that evil under the masks of greed and fear will prevail always over good, that all individuals are, at their core, ultimately incapable of staving off that which tempts. You get the idea. It's a rather fun story that made me question what I might do in those situations. But then came a disappointment: the ending. It felt as if Coelho had run out of steam, tying up the story too quickly and leaving out some substance I had expected to discover. Or, was this intentional? Maybe he accomplished what he'd set out to do. To leave us with a pile of spiritual questions, unanswered and for us to ponder on our own.