Although it’s just past the festive season, The Diary of Archie the Alpaca is the perfect giftable pocket book for starting the New Year.
The petite ‘diary’, spanning January to December from the perspective of an amusing alpaca and his two cats, offers page-by-page literary treats for all: from haikus to profound one liners on the meaning of life. Although Kevin MacNeil refutes authorship, instead choosing to authenticate Archie’s narrative, his dulcet, moving voice nonetheless permeates even the simplest of statements.
Championing the core aspect of the haiku – which is the intent of sharing an immediate experience with a reader and thus opposing the typical reactionary poem – the diary presents many ideas on how to live mindfully in the moment.
Not a hint of pretentious unattainability can be associated with MacNeil’s partly philosophical writing; rather, the occasional life advice quotes are evenly balanced with parodies of profound thought which are wonderfully innocent in humour.
Each of MacNeil’s, or rather Archie’s, quotes, anecdotes or haikus appears alone on a page, adding poignancy by allowing the reader either to reflect on philosophy or appreciate a quip as each page is turned.
The beauty of MacNeil’s quotes is the fact that they appear alone, which allows them to possess a powerful quietness as they puncture the blank page. The diary is very much in tune with the mindfulness of a haiku: every element promotes reader contemplation.
In addition to the absurdity of an alpaca writing a diary, the randomness continues with fun references to Salvador Dali, Kafka or even Kim Jong Un – all in the strange context of Archie’s bizarre imagination.
Be it mimicking Dali’s existential questions as Archie the Alpaca, or crafting a tale of the cockroach who one day woke up as Kafka, the diary is a lovely bedtime distraction, taking the reader away from the seriousness and towards the silliness of life.
Each month opens with a page illustration from Moose Allain of Archie the Alpaca engaged in a random activity, from riding a turtle to watching small children fight over dinosaurs. The drawings, too, are harmonious with the tone of the diary; little fine-liner doodles appear as random projections of MacNeil’s ponderings, breaking up the monotony of everyday thought.
After having seen MacNeil speak at the Little Library Bookshop in December, The Diary of Archie the Alpaca becomes the book form of his own character: a soothing, moving voice that focuses, without insisting, on the importance of mindfulness and living in the present, while at the same time chuckling over a quietly muttered joke.
Devoid of cynicism, this is the perfect book for anyone looking to add a smattering of silliness to their day.
The Diary of Archie the Alpaca by Kevin MacNeil.
(Published by Birlinn)
Image: Holly Thomas.