This is a book that I have been nursing for some time, and I'm glad to finally be done with it. Coelho is one of my favourite authors, so one would think that I would have devoured it as I did "Veronika Decides to Die" or "By the River Piedra I Sat and Wept."
The theme of the novel is temptation, and what temptation will drive people to do. The setting is a poor village with a rich and proud history, but it's only inhabitants now are older people - no families. A stranger arrives in town and approaches the youngest villager, the barmaid, Miss Prym. He shows her ten gold bars that can be hers if she can prove that people are inherently good, and if given the chance to kill one of their own, they will chose not to. If she cannot prove this, and someone in the village commits a murder within the next few days, he will give the gold to the village.
The story is, in fact, more complex than that, with other characters who weigh in on the temptation. Of course, we all know how the story will end - no murder will be committed - but it is interesting to read about the thought process that is involved when being tempted. Coelho created characters that were master manipulators, innocent bystanders, and dogged followers. He didn't necessarily delve into a great deal of character development because most of his characters were archtypes in a bigger picture.
I think Coelho appeals to a certain reader: one who is interested in learning about all facets of humanity. He is no "escapist" writer - you know those books that you can read mindlessly because what the author has to say really isn't any different than the last paperback that you picked up - but he writes for the soul. He writes words that speak to a person's critical reasoning, and is intensely philosophical. Not for everyone, and not all the time for me, but when I'm in the mood to pick him up, I'm never disappointed.