Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Casual Vacancy - J.K. Rowling

Hello Marauders, or should I say Dia dhuit , which is hello in Gaelic! Sadly I wish I knew more words from P&P’s great stint across the pond, however I was much to busy sipping espresso, drinking pints, and basking in Irish sunlight with a good book. Sounds idyllic right? Not going to lie, it basically was. However now we are back to the real world and that includes of course book reviews!! This is my first review in over a year so please bear with me. In fact you might just want to ignore this one all together, and wait for next weeks as I imagine it will be a huge improvement. Alas, here we go….

“Things denied, things untold, things hidden and disguised.”

 The Casual Vacancy

By J. K Rowling

To quote a fellow book reviewer,” I think J K Rowling is a brilliant writer and I would have bought this book if it were $117.99 and written in pencil on toilet paper”. Couldn’t have said it better myself, which is proven by the fact that during the day of the long anticipated release of J.K Rowling’s ‘First Adult Fiction Novel’ I was literally standing at a Dublin airport circa 5 a.m. hounding the airport book store employees to just ‘PUT THE FRACKING BOOKS OUT ALREADY’. Needless to say not my finest hour. And sadly for my all time literary hero, Rowling, not hers either.

‘The Casual Vacancy’ takes its title name from a term in politics, applied when someone on a council seat is suddenly found unable to retain their position. For example a sudden aneurism in the middle of a parking lot, which is exactly how Barry Fairweather, Padgeforth council man kicks off the namesake of the novel. What follows is a measured, some-what convoluted, look into the lives of the residents of what appears on the surface to be a small tranquil English town. Of course with any good story, the appearances of the town are not what they seem, as the residents begin to show their true colors and intentions fuelled by their own immorality and dissolution. Rowling offers up a cornucopia of characters for us to hate, to judge, and to at times root for, making the slow progression of the townsfolk the central theme to the story. The death of quite possibly the only true protagonist of the story, is just a McGuffin to keep the reader moving along with the story, hoping that the tragedy of one man will hope to lead to the moral triumph of another. It was an interesting literary device to use on Rowlings part, but I couldn’t help but feel at the end of the day, it fell a bit flat.

We have seen it countless times, a successful actor, entrepreneur, comedian, whathave you who finds tremendous success in one genre, then almost rebels against that success to prove that they are not a one trick pony. For a good example listen to Bob Saget’s standup comedy routine. Writers are not without exception. No one will blame Rowling for wanting to move away from the ‘Young Adult’ genre, however what I cannot forgive on this occasion is the lack of artistic merit that went along with her debut. It seemed to me that while Rowling was clearly targeting a more adult audience, with drug references, abuse topics, and even rape, she seemed to forget that adult themes does not an adult book make. While the topics were more mature, the writing style was not, and there were times when I was literally forcing myself to continue on with the story. There is good stuff here, but the gilmers are few and far between.
“She had a way of moving that moved him as much as music, which was what moved him most of all. Surely the spirit animating that pearless body must be unusual too? Why would nature make a vessel like that, if not to contain something still more valuable?”
With the success of the Harry Potter series, it is obviously impossible to judge this book on its own merits. We have seen first-hand the sheer ‘Sandy’ force winds that Rowling is capable of using to blow us down, and I for one had my rain jacket and umbrella prepared for this hurricane of a novel. Sadly while expecting to get drenched, I came out only mildly soggy. While this book is undeniably 'Rowling-esque', it is just lacking that certain care-and-love-and-magic that came pouring out so effortlesly from every passage in the Potter series. It is this marauders greatest hope that with her next work Rowling will find a balance between the adult and the immature, the magical and the mundane, and perhaps hire a new editor.


  1. "...and perhaps hire a new editor" - HELL YES. I know she said in interviews she wanted complete control, and wanted to be able to live or die by her own means, but some of the editorial choices were atrocious! So many clunky sentences even a trainee editor would have been able to recast more smoothly, ugh.

    Overall I think I liked it better than you did, but I completely agree that it wasn't what we've come to expect from Rowling. If you look at it as though it's an unknown author's debut novel, it's quite good, for what it is - but knowing it comes from Rowling, with her proven talent and years of experience, it did fall a little short.

    I did do a proper review on my blog if you wanted to check that out.

    Good to have you back, anyway! :)

  2. It's funny how different perspectives can be depending on how you go into a book. Personally, I didn't think Rowling's writing in the HP series was stellar. Her storytelling and characterization, yes, but the writing was full of problems, from changing point of view to overuse of adverbs to annoyingly repetitious phrasing. Considering that the plot of The Casual Vacancy sounded like the most boring thing I'd ever heard, and all the reviews made it sound as if she was putting in stuff simply for shock value, I didn't even bother to buy the book, but instead just got it from the library. As it turns out, I thought the writing was highly superior to HP, and other than some of those shocking-for-shock's-sake moments near the beginning of the book, the storytelling and characterization was just as brilliant as in HP. I expected to hate the book - actually, I didn't even expect to finish it - but I turned out to like it very much. Not perfect, but really good. I might even buy my own copy at some point.

    You can see my full review here:

  3. Well it wasn't Harry, no, and it was definitely flatter and more difficult to read. In general worse. It seemed to me to be an exhibitionist book, meant for her to stretch out all her vulgar muscles that had been so cramped in young adult fantasy. But the book didn't suck. I would argue that kyrstal was the protagonist, not barry, and her storyline was the best both plotwise and wordwise. All the other dirt about the local townspeople seemed harshly played up and difficult to believe, and that's where I would have liked some tact instead of some flair.
    To explain my comments on facebook, I'm hormonal and tired which was why I took the ending so hard.

    side note. still a good fuckin' ending.

  4. @Simbera - Glad you agree on the editor front. I understand that she wanted to spread her 'adult' wings, but it just seemed like writing for the sake of writing in some areas. I missed the well thought out and beautiful prose of HP. I have a habit of highlighting any interesting or well written passages, and sadly C.V was almost neon marking free. :( Loved your review as well, it is great hearing all the different opinions on such a highly anticipated book!

  5. @ Amanda - Haha well you know how partial we are to HP so it was really hard to read C.V with an objective point of view. I guess I just had trouble really connecting with any of the characters, although I will admit she did a really fantastic job of presenting them. The disconnect did not come from her lack of detail or imagrey, I think for me it was more her writing style. Loved your review as well! Looking forward to seeing more from you as always!

  6. I too was swayed by the reviews I'd seen and was actually dreading reading this. I found the beginning hard to get through, with the endless parade of characters and the increasingly complex web of connections between them. However, I read the last 100 pages or so as if I were running downhill, so Rowling still has the ability to captivate me, even if it took so long to finally do so!

    I think that, in general, this whole small English town setting and local politics was just a more boring topic for us fantasy lovers! If we loved dour, invasive (of characters' personal lives), English novels as much as we loved fantasy, I think we'd see this as a win for Rowling.


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