Friday, October 12, 2012

The Casual Vacancy Review

Imagine you're JK Rowling, international best selling author and creator of the beloved Harry Potter series. You're a multi-billionaire. You want to write an adult book. How can you distance yourself from your popular children's book and still sell books? Here's how I imagined she approached The Casual Vacancy.

JK Rowling's Rules for Writing an Adult Book (by me)
1. Realize that you are very good at creating unlikable characters (personally, Umbridge is still one of the most horrifying characters that I've ever read about) and make up an entire town full of mostly unlikable people.
2. Come up with a plot more muddled than the Elder Wand situation with a far less satisfying conclusion.
3. Throw in a lot of cursing, sex (my mind kept wondering what would happen if Ron and Hermoine got up to the stuff the teens do in this book), drugs, suicide, etc.

Long story short, I did not really enjoy The Casual Vacancy. I thought I would love it. It sounded like a novel about a small, quirky British town. I thought it would be like Major Pettigrew's Last Stand or The Tower, the Zoo and the Tortoise: funny and charming and entertaining.

Not so much. The premise is that Barry Fairbrother, a relatively young council member of Pagford's local government, dies suddenly, leaving a casual vacancy in the council. The very Dursley-esque Howard Mollison, first citizen more or less of the town, wants his son to take Barry's place. You see, Howard and Barry were on opposite sides of the issue of the Fields. The Fields is a rather run down neighborhood where a lot of degenerates live and where the local addiction clinic is. Due to a zoning issue, the Fields is under the jurisdiction of Pagford, but the Pagfordians want it out of their hands and passed on to the control of the local city. Barry had been a passionate supporter of the Fields, since he had grown up there and had made something of himself through education despite his impoverished background. Howard wants the Fields gone completely.

Throughout the book you meet a plethora of townspeople, so many that sometimes I couldn't remember who was who - which is not something I usually have a problem with. I'm pretty good with even the minor characters in Game of Thrones, but I felt like I just didn't care enough about these people to keep them all straight. Everyone was pretty awful from the nosy housewives to the awful teenagers to the meth addicted residents of the Fields. I laughed at bit at Miles Mollison and his father Howard, because I kept picturing them as Dudley and Vernon Dursley from Harry Potter but then they just got awful and not in an amusing Harry Potterish way. Also there was literally no one to root for. No plucky orphan kid destined to rid the world of evil or whatever. Yeah, I knew not to expect that but honestly there was just no one good. It was like reading two books on Jamie from Game of Thrones and realizing that he is totally awesome when he gets his first point of view but then when Cersei gets her point of view, you find out that there is absolutely nothing redeemable about her. That's like most of the characters from this book.

I didn't know if I would even finish it at one point but I just had surgery and spent much of yesterday at home in bed so I just pushed through and finished it. And it had a pretty crappy, sad ending.

The book was well written and the characters were fairly well developed, however, I didn't care about any of them. It was a little too gritty British for me (not enough tea and scones and amusing people... more like Skins on the BBC, which I found irritating). So now we know, JK Rowling can write an adult book. Sadly the woman that brought so much joy to people all over the world has now sucked that joy right back out. I don't need her to revisit Harry Potter's world (although clearly I would be first in line to buy a book if she did) but I also wish this was a better read. Blah.

Entertainment Weekly Review 

Buy it at amazon and Barnes & Noble

1 comment:

  1. Agreed. I just finished reading and reviewing this, and I was disappointed. I don't mind a bleak read (although I'm not sure this is wholly bleak), but I found much of the writing tedious, and didn't really enjoy any of the characters.

    Well said.