A change from Harry Potter: The Casual Vacancy – By J. K. Rowling

Tragicomedy

When Barry Fairbrother – a popular and ambitious councilman – dies unexpectedly, Pagford is left in shock. The ostensibly quaint, idyllic town, with its ancient abbey and cobbled market square, becomes increasingly chaotic as the mad scramble for the empty council seat turns nasty. Deep-rooted resentment and discontentment fuels teenagers to turn against parents, and incites wives to desert their husbands. Issues that had previously been kept at bay threaten to divide the town, as anger and passion overwhelm some, and the disparity between generations and classes becomes increasingly palpable.

I was riveted by this book, despite its length and relatively mundane premise – perhaps this was because of its ‘closeness to home’: I related to many of the characters; Rowling’s satirical reflections on suburban life are accurate, if not stereotypical. Written in split-narrative, the book relates to all readers: the narrators are of different classes, ages and personalities. The interplays and contradictions that the reader is given is intriguing and often humorous; when characters describe each other, you’re reminded of the gap between the outward and inward ‘selves’ that people have. Overall, it’s a good book, and I enjoyed reading it, however at times I felt it dragged on a bit.

Readers who enjoy a slow paced book about everyday life, as opposed to an other-worldly plot, would enjoy The Casual Vacancy. They would also like it if they like books that don’t have a grand plot; The Casual Vacancy is based on everyday life in the suburbs: familial relationships and social interactions amongst townspeople.

My Ratings (out of 10 As):

Plot/Story: AAAAAAA

Writing: AAAAAAA

Pace: Slow

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A Modern Classic of Storytelling: The Alchemist – By Paulo Coelho

Fictional Memoir

The Alchemist follows a shepherd boy’s spiritual journey: his dreams, successes, and the obstacles that he must overcome. Santiago, the shepherd boy, has been having a recurring dream in which a girl leads him to the pyramids, telling him of his treasure there. He decides to seek out a gypsy for advice on the dream: she tells him to travel to the pyramids to find the treasure, asking for one tenth of it as payment. Early on in his journey, the boy meets an old king named Melchizedek who urges him to pursue his ‘Personal Legend’ (a common theme in the book), which is to find his treasure. Santiago travels to the pyramids in a caravan, and becomes acquainted with an Englishman who is in search of an old, renowned alchemist. On the way, the caravan stops at an oasis, where Santiago meets a beautiful woman called Fatima. He falls in love with her, and asks her to marry him; she agrees to, on the condition that he finds his treasure first. He later encounters an alchemist who teaches him the ways of the world, and guides him in finding his treasure.

This book is different from any other I have read before. Its childlike simplicity in portraying deep philosophical notions is disarming, and its narrator is convincing, personable and endearing. However, sometimes he is too naive and open-minded, and is often unnaturally matter of fact when describing events: this made him seem less relatable, although this was probably intended to give an understanding, innocent quality to Santiago. The book is purposely metaphorical, so doesn’t need to be taken literally, but instead as an allegory; in this way its implausibility may be pardoned. The novel’s concepts are profound and thought-provoking, albeit far-fetched, and its non-denominational spiritual lessons are uplifting and thought-provoking. Whilst reading this book, I felt compelled to consider things thoroughly, thinking in a more philosophical way; it’s great for self-motivation and guidance.

I would recommend this book if you enjoy a ‘deep’ book that has mythical, magical themes, yet is readable and accessible. At times, it’s very slow-paced, but this doesn’t hinder its magnetism: it’s a book that you’ll feel compelled to pick up at every opportunity.

My Ratings (out of 10 As):

Plot/Story: AAAAAAA

Writing: AAAAAAAA

Pace: Slow

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