A novel about a classic literature club, how monotonous must it be?
Koten-bu is a novel like no other I've read before. With its classy and whimsical atmosphere, peculiar plot, smooth and easy-going prose, amazing interactions between its quirky characters, plenty of references to western works and mysteries that are so simple yet with the way that they're presented they may seem like they're just as complex as the ones only Sherlock Holmes himself would be able to solve. With so many characteristics as these it is not an easy task to find a word to describe this novel, but if I had to choose, it would definitely be just one: Boring.
𝐒𝐭𝐨𝐫𝐲 (and storytelling):
Hotaro Oreki, a self-proclaimed "energy-saver" is an ordinary-looking, introvert and indifferent teenage boy with an average appearance. Lazy is the definitely the best word to describe his personality. But despite having such demeanor, to his displeasure, his eccentric older sister orders him to join the 'Classics Club' before it gets closed down because of its lack of active members.
Upon arriving in the said club he meets Eru Chitanda, another student from Kamiyama High School, which is described as being a graceful lady with a long, flowing dark hair and large black pupils. With a great sense of curiosity and a very persuasive personality she manages to bring out his potential as a mystery-solving detective and make his life-motto "If I don't have to do it, I won't. If I have to do it, I'll make it quick" crumble into pieces. Every time something relatively puzzling appears, all she has to do is say those 'magical words' to him, and as if he was being a victim of the spell of a witch, he has no choice but to accept her requests and in a mystery-filled school such as Kamiyama High there are plenty of enigmas waiting to be solved.
Remember when I said that this novel was boring? Well... in a general consensus it kind of is. There's no action, no murders, no betrayals, none of this. Only riddles to be solved by the Classics Club's members. But to me, I didn't feel bored not even for a second while reading this novel. Sure, the protagonist himself may be boring, as in a sense that the only thing that we know about him is the fact that he has a sister and he's not very fond of socializing. But just like many protagonists, he's a blank P.O.V. character created for people to put themselves in his shoes and experience the story through his angle. But to counterweight this, there's always something interesting and noteworthy happening around him to keep me entertained.
The serene and tranquil storytelling this novel has makes text flow easily and smoothly. The author chooses carefully which words to use to describe every scene, gesture or expression. The narrative is neither sloppy nor pretentious giving this novel a calm and peaceful atmosphere for most of the time, but it can also be engaging and captivating when the mysteries are being solved. Simply put: it befits perfectly for a light-hearted mystery novel such as this one.
The themes which are dealt in this novel range from discussions about subjectivity and objectivity when judging the quality of fictional works to dilemmas related to life choices and their subsequent consequences. While the main genre of this novel is mystery, there are also dashes of drama and a considerable amount of comic relief can also be found on it.
•Simple yet interesting mysteries;
𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐫𝐚𝐜𝐭𝐞𝐫𝐬 (and interactions):
Oreki is a passive, calm and reserved person that prefers being alone reading novels or napping rather than spending time with other people. Chitanda is the president of the Classics Club and the one responsible for making the plot progress with her energetic personality and incessant curiosity. While she can be a polite, ladylike ojou-sama from a wealthy family she completely disregards the concept of personal space from time to time when she's doing her requests. Fukube is a cheerful yet sarcastic and also rather flamboyant person that finds joy in the constant act of teasing his best friend. And lastly Ibara, she's a very strict person that can come off as annoying for most of the time, but she can also be friendly and pleasant when she wants to, as she developed a great friendship bond with Chitanda, whom she affectionately nicknamed "Chii-chan". And these are the members from the Classics Club who spend their youth in Kami High School solving mysteries and dealing with their daily routines.
The interactions between these characters happen so spontaneously, it's something extremely entertaining to watch. For most of the time everyone just keeps teasing and mocking Oreki, but sometimes he is able to give some snarky responses to them. Since Oreki knows Fukube and Ibara since middle school, Chitanda feels like an outsider and because of this she's always making her best to get to know them better, always asking innocent questions while staring at them with her large black eyes. With every mystery that is solved the characters change a little, just a little and learn different things from each other every passing day.
One character that is not from the Classics Club, but is definitely noteworthy is, my personal favorite, Fuyumi Irisu, nicknamed as 'The Empress' by Oreki. She's graceful yet cold and manipulative and she's willing to do what it takes to get what/ever she wants. She even outsmarted Oreki into solving one mystery for her and that left him in a sour mood for a while. But even with a personality like this she is not immune to Chitanda's persuasiveness, as she said that she was a victim of the power of "Chitanda's Eyes" when she requested her help to sell the Hyouka anthologies during the school festival.
Other than that, all I have to say is that the author did a pretty good job with the characterization and fleshing out the characters throughout the story.
•Not so good protagonist;
•Fantastic heroine that drives the plot forwards;
•Excellent main cast overall;
•Fuyumi Irisu best girl.
This is an unique and extremely enjoyable novel (at least for me). I have fun reading it and also translating it (I'm translating it into my own language - ENG→PT-BR)*. The mysteries are simple but they're intriguing and well executed. The characters are brilliant, they're charismatic and well-rounded and they have amazing interactions with each other. The drama is neither weak nor forced and the jokes are genuinely funny. I'm glad I've found this novel because I honestly had a great time reading it, I'm sure this novel is going to stay forever amongst my favorites for being an amusing and enlightening work of art. And even when I'm not reading it, I can't stop thinking about it!
*/Edit: not anymore.
•Simply a work of art.
Story - 9/10
Characters - 9/10
Art - N/A
Enjoyment - 10/10
Overall - 9/10
Similar recommendations for those looking for stories centered around mystery(/slice of life), drama and some comedy:
Akuryou Series, Yahari Ore no Seisun Love Comedy wa Machigatteiru., Haruhi Suzumiya Series, Gosick, Kokoro Connect, CLANNAD, Monogatari Series, HaruChika: Haruta to Chika wa Seishun suru, Zetsuen no Tempest, and Natsume Yuujinchou.