The Casual Vacancy - Review

The Casual VacancyThe Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Hmm. Tricky one, this. And this was my first experience with J.K. Rowling, so no howling about Harry Potter here.
Three stars because it was a fast and engaging read and I can't deny that. Three stars because Rowling is great at character sketches and drawing a pretty clear picture of a world and the people in it, and every now and then she turns a nice phrase though the mostly very plain speak is ok too.

But this book feels mainly like two things: 1) a dare and 2) an act of supreme self-indulgence. I say a dare because as the most successful children's author ever in the universe ever, it must be daunting to think that you must prove yourself a writer of more mature tomes. This book felt like it had something to prove, with pretty much every 'adult' theme you could imagine thrown in to the narrative. Politics? Check. Death? Check. Poverty? Check. Rasicm, classism, neglect, sex, drugs, apathy, scandal, adultery, abuse, mental illness? Check check check check check check check check check check. Oh, and a character roster larger than Genesis that took a quarter of the book to finally keep straight, but like I said earlier, at least the characters are well defined.

So, on to number two, the supreme self-indulgence. It's not a stretch to guess that J.K. Rowling writes with impunity. Are you going to tell the most commercially successful British author of all time how or what to write? Somebody should have. The editing is just so .... non-existent. From the length (503 pages) and the pages-long parenthetical statements (seriously - it got so bad that I would come to a passage that ended in a parenthesis and had to scan backwards for paragraphs to find the beginning of the parenthetical statement and then refocus my thinking to once again disclude that narrative from the story arc because it wasn't a new scene or even pertinent to the plot, it was simply a digression presented in the most annoying of ways possible. See what I did there?) to the repetition of ideas and quite simply, the mistakes. A sentence that actually begins, "Dreadful swooping sensations of dread..." is a mistake. A mistake that an editor should catch, but like I said, I'm not sure there was one. That's really too bad.

There were no darlings murdered in this book, and quite frankly, the amount of time it took to reach the climax was not worth the payoff.

So, in the end 3 stars, because it was a page turner, though ultimately I was disappointed with what was on the pages, and because if Jonathan Fucking Franzen had written it, people would cry that it should be nominated for a Pulitzer.

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  1. I keep picking it up at the store and putting it back down. I think you're right in that she likely felt that she had everything to prove. I am a big HP fan and I fear this might ruin it for me so I'm going to hold off for now.

  2. I'll be honest - as a sucker for Potter, I'll probably read anything Rowling writes. Although this will have to be added to the end of my very long to-read list, so it likely won't be anytime soon. I'm not excited enough to allow it to jump the queue.

  3. Yeah... I won't be reading it.

    But I *am* disappointed.

  4. I finished this a few weeks ago and was also unimpressed... I didn't find the adult themes all that shocking, just sad. The abuse and the apathy, the teens living miserable existences - it was a lot to take without much uplifting to counterbalance it.

    I think she's a skilled writer and have loved the Potter series - I wouldn't recommend this though, there are better novels to explore these themes that don't leave you feeling drained and depressed.

  5. Yeah, I don't think I can read this book. But I do love your reviews of not-good books, so thanks for the laugh!


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