Growing up is never easy for anyone. Our teenage years are often a difficult time and while many thrive, others struggle under the weight of so many pressures. There are no easy solutions to maturity though, it’s simply a case of riding the wave and getting through. In James Conway’s The Vagabond King we have a teenager who is approaching maturity when his life is turned upside down by tragedy and revelation.
Chris is the main character in the novel and at the outset his mother passes away leaving him with a father he discovers actually isn’t his real father after all. This becomes too much for Chris who runs away from home and finds a roof with a local waitress, Magda, and her father, simply described as the Old Man. Though much older than him, Chris desires Magda intensely while the Old Man begins to teach him of his past and helps give Chris a new perspective on life.
This is one of those books where events wise not very much happens. A bit like a film such as Lost in Translation or Withnail & I, what is important is what’s said rather than what happens. Chris is devastated at the outset by the death of his mother and he tells us how she embraced many religions in the run up to her death, trying to find and understand herself before breathing her last. When Chris learns that his father isn’t really his father, he feels no reason to stay and goes in search of his own self and wonders about who his real father is.
The local waitress Magda is twice as old as Chris but being in his late teens and full of hormones he lusts after her, though she shows no interest in return despite often going on dates. Magda allows Chris to live with her and she teaches him of world religions, the similarities between the faiths, while her father has many stories from his days in Hungary, encounters with the Soviet Union, his flight overseas and his love of the Blues and beer. While Chris gets himself work he and Magda divide their time between keeping the Old Man company. Chris finds the Old Man somewhat annoying to begin with but over time they become closer and Chris begins to learn about life and as a result begins the final stages of his maturity.
I quite enjoyed The Vagabond King. The Old Man’s reminiscences were the best parts of the book. Other times some of the narrative felt uneventful but there’s no denying this is still a very well written book. The ending was very apt building on the message that history always repeats itself and it is one of the final lessons that Chris learns from his time with the Old Man and with Magda. This won’t appeal to all readers especially if they want an eventful read. This is a more ponderous albeit well executed narrative.
The Vagabond King is an intense yet uneventful read. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing dependent on the sort of books you enjoy but I feel that this will be an acquired taste rather than appealing to the mainstream. I felt it was a good book but some readers will inevitably find it unsatisfying. That said, how is that different to any other book?
(Book source: reviewer received a copy in exchange for a fair and honest review)