Tuesday, 16 October 2012

The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling

Published 27 September 2012 by Little Brown

Rating: **** (out of five stars)

It's been a week or so since I actually finished this because I wanted to wait a while and compose my thoughts before I inflicted my views on the rest of the world. I considered not writing a review at all because still I'm not sure I can really get across in coherent sentences how I feel about The Casual Vacancy. But then I realised that at the speed JKR writes I should probably take advantage of having more material from my favourite author.

There seems to have been a lot of bad press for this book, though obviously as JKR's first work since Potter that was bound to happen, so I want to make it clear that this is not a negative review at all. I enjoyed the book, it entertained me, it made me think, and surely that in itself means it served it's purpose. The writing was of course excellent; the character descriptions in particular were so vivid I could almost feel the characters standing over me whilst I read. Many (in fact probably the majority) were not likeable, but in my limited experience I'd have to say they were pretty accurate portraits of a type of person which unfortunately does exist in real life.The issues explored were important ones, and the type where so often only one side of the story is heard and it really did give a voice to those who need it so desperately in these times of austerity. Even the plot quickened and became reasonably addictive, despite it's seemingly dull nature.

I do understand the problems people had with the book though. If any of you listen to Mugglecast (which if you're a Potter fan you really should do) you'd have heard them talking about how bad the book's publicity was and I totally agree. It was targeted at existing fans of Rowling and while I do believe that we can enjoy it, I also think that there are a lot of people who would have missed out on reading it because they didn't really realise that it wasn't another fantasy or more light-hearted novel. This isn't really what I normally read; the politics involved in my usual fare are normally entirely fictional, and I think a lot of people who went into this simply because of the name on the cover will have been disappointed. As much as I knew this wouldn't be anything like Harry Potter, it's another thing to actually have it in front of you and know that. Sure, some of the themes and morals are similar but that is really it. Again, not a bad thing, just something that for me it was weird to accept.

I do have some negatives though, but I really don't want to linger on them much as I did ENJOY the book! After the initial chapter it took the narrative quite a while to get going whilst the massive cast of characters was introduced. I have no problem with sex or expletives in literature or anything else if they're necessary and add to the story, but I did feel like she was making up for lost time and mentioning erections and masturbation at every conceivable moment, even if it had no relevance at all. The ending was realistic, but perhaps not satisfying.

Overall though this is a brilliant book, which will inevitably be judged in a light far harsher than that of its peers. It does make you wonder if perhaps a pseudonym wouldn't have been such a bad idea after all.

(I'm really interested in what other people thought on this one, especially if you haven't read Harry Potter much previously, so please feel free to comment below)

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