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Saturday 6 October 2012

The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling [Review]

Written by: J.K. Rowling.
Published by: Little Brown.
Format: Hardback.
Released: 27th September 2012.
Rating: 4/5.

Official synopsis: "When Barry Fairbrother dies in his early forties, the town of Pagford is left in shock. Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, but what lies behind the pretty fa├žade is a town at war. Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils…Pagford is not what it first seems. And the empty seat left by Barry on the parish council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen. Who will triumph in an election fraught with passion, duplicity and unexpected revelations? A big novel about a small town, The Casual Vacancy is J.K. Rowling’s first novel for adults. It is the work of a storyteller like no other."

I'll be honest, I am completely and utterly at a loss with how on Earth to start this review. So much build up. So much anticipation. Months of waiting after it was announced. And five years of waiting to see what J.K. Rowling, the best selling author of our life time, and indeed ever I do believe, would do next. And it all boils down to this. The Casual Vacancy. Set, in a FICTIONAL town (this point needs to be made clear, press reports of towns being angry that they believe it is set there after the events that take place are ludicrous and pathetic, in my view, get a grip!) called Pagford in the South West of England, all is not well behind closed doors. While the inhabitants of Pagford would like to believe that their lives are perfect, well lived and in some cases of the utmost importance in the day to day life of their town, all is not as it appears on the surface. Like with all human beings, there are cracks, just waiting for the opportunity to burst open and show the ugly truth of it all. The catalyst for these cracks spreading? The death of poor old Barry Fairbrother.

Now, I'll be perfectly honest. JK could write down her shopping list (Tea bags, sugar, eggs, milk, butter, pens and paper) and I would rush out to purchase it, regardless of its subject matter and length. However, that is not to say that she is without fault. None of us are perfect, right? The Casual Vacancy is completely different to what I expected. To what most of us expect, I have no doubt. What was billed as blackly comic, there is barely an ounce of comedy here. Yes there are moments, I'd chuckle and need a moment before I could go back to the story, but what we have here is a dark, dangerous and at times, downright depressing book. My feelings on the book as a whole are very mixed.

JK herself has said that is no beach read and she is completely right. Now there will be no spoilers, as I know, if it'd been spoilt for me there'd be hell to pay. So I'm not going to say anything that Jo herself hasn't already said. Here we have a tale of a town falling apart at the seams. Couples who can't agree with each other, on the verge of splitting up. There's violence. Domestic abuse. Heroin addiction. And a heck of a lot of swearing. I watched the interview Jo did for BBC 2 and as soon as she said the F word, I whooped and got a little excited. Don't ask me why, but it was so radically different to what you'd expect in Harry Potter that I couldn't help but be excited. Now, I swear as much as the next person. I can't always help it. When I'm angry, upset, over excited, in pain, it just comes out. But I have to say that the potty mouths in The Casual Vacancy have well and truly pardoned me of any verbal crimes. At points, I was a little uncomfortable with it all. So many swear words in one little piece of dialogue. Wow. It just made me think and definitely makes me want to cut down on my use of the F word.

Theres sex. There are teenagers, how could there not be? Luckily JK is no E.L. James and its handled well and doesn't really take over. It's just a part of the story, sometimes lasting a paragraph and then it's gone, on to the next character.

While I enjoyed the overall story, I do feel that there were too many characters here. I'm not even going to begin to count them all. But there are some, that I felt if they were cut, it wouldn't of made any difference to the overall effect of the story being told. Some of them, I found to be quite forgetful and when they were mentioned again, later on in the book it'd take a second for me to remember who they were and what they've been doing barely 20 or 30 pages before. Local elections don't interest me, politics as a rule don't interest me. I get that the election for the seat left by the man, Barry, who dies right at the start of the book, is a way in to see peoples faults, but at times the talk of the election did bore me. I just couldn't help it. It's an adult book, and despite the fact that I turn 20 in little over 2 months time, I don't really read adult books. Their subject matters don't interest me. They just do nothing for me. And I'm not going to pretend. If this wasn't written by Jo, I would NEVER of picked it up. Not in a million years. Ever. NEVER! I can't stress this enough. While I enjoyed it, it's not a book I would of actively sought to read. I get what she was trying to do, and I admire her for tackling the issues she tackles, and it is, as ever, well written. There's no denying that. As the synopsis says, JK is a storyteller like no other. 

The ending was heartbreaking, and I liked some of the characters, but I just didn't feel a connection to this cast unlike that of Harry. Maybe because that was over 7 books, but even with stand alones I normally get that connection. I just didn't share any of the wants or characteristics that are on display here. For me, this detracted from the book. I wanted to latch onto a character who I could truly root for, and while I found a inkling of that for Krystal Weedon, it wasn't as strong as I was hoping for.

I'm going to end this review now for fear of rambling on either further. Yes, I liked the book. Would I read it again? Probably not. Was it worth the wait? Hmmm... maybe, I'm still undivided. Will I read whatever she publishes next? Most definitely, and I already cannot wait. I just hope it's nothing like The Casual Vacancy.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, I loved the Harry Potter books. But what a complete change with this well-written adult novel. Rowling's prose is flawless, and her stories entertwine in the most unique ways. This tale of what happens to a community upon the death of one individual includes hope, tragedy, responsibility, and again, hope. I loved this novel.

    Dwayne Johnston (Zespri Gold Kiwifruit)