Monday, November 19, 2012

Review of "A Casual Vacancy": J.K. Rowling's Controversial Venture into Adult Literature

I saw an interview with J.K. Rowling the other day about this book. In it she said that she doesn't expect everyone to like it. According to reviews I've read, this statement has been accurate. It seems people either love or hate the book.

I'm in the love camp but my friend Angela Epp hated it. So here are two opposing reviews of the same book. You may just have to read it yourself to decide!

1) Why did/didn’t you like this book?

Lisa: I liked this book because it was a character driven novel with a real sense of suspense - who would replace Barry Fairbrother on the council? Exciting stuff! It provides a slice of semi-rural English life and a colourful cast of characters. I must admit though, that at first I found the amount of characters distracting.

Angela: I felt that there were too many characters to keep track of in this story, with too many different plot lines. I felt no connection with the characters and struggled with pushing my way through the 500 page book to see how things worked out.
The book revolves around replacing a town council member after the sudden death of Barry Fairbrother. Little is known about Barry. When there is a battle for his position, pressure to maintain his vision, or a betrayal of his best friend, I felt no emotion. The man meant nothing to me so who cares what happened after he died. I couldn’t connect with the story and felt desperate for the book to just end.
I think Rowling was trying to tell too big a tale for one book but I sure wouldn’t have wanted this story to develop into a series.

I liked the cover – catchy colors and simple design that caught my eye. More than anything, I picked up the book because of the author. She had written so well for teens in the past that I was excited to see what she had to offer the adult world.

2) How does it compare to her other writing?

Lisa: Similiar to Harry Potter, Rowling deftly creates a fictious world with so many details you believe it really exists. This book though is definitely written for adults as the language and situations are quite harsh and crude.

Angela: In the Harry Potter series, Rowling had more time to build the characters so that you knew them like a friend. You knew their backgrounds and what it was that made them who they were – good or bad. The series was gripping with great tales and adventure. It was easy to get lost in Potter’s world at Hogwarts and eagerly anticipate the next book that built so well on the last. I could see how the world ate them up.
“The Casual Vacancy” is nothing like that. I wouldn’t have wanted to get lost in Pagford for anything. A town full of gossips, sexual scandals, drug abuse and domestic violence is not a positive escape but rather a nightmare of really messed up town folk. The people in the town just seem to move from bad to worse. I think Rowling tried to stuff too much into one book. It felt like the book that went nowhere, a mind numbing piece of fiction.

3) Is there a quote you want to share?

Lisa: I found forty-something Samantha Mollison's obsession with her daughter's favourite boy-band really funny and embaressingly true to life- "(She) had now bought herself all three of the DVD's...she would buy a band t-shirt to wear...Jake would be undulating mere yards away from her. It would be more fun than she had had in years."

Angela: Not from the book itself but from another review that I read. Michiko Kakutani did a review for the New York Times on Sept 27, 2012 and I could relate to his comment: “Unfortunately, the real-life world (Rowling) has limned in these pages is so willfully banal, so depressingly clichéd that “The Casual Vacancy” in not only disappointing – it’s dull.” That was my sentiments exactly.

4) What do you suggest we read instead?

Lisa:Irish writer Maeve Binchy also wrote novels featuring a cast of characters interacting within a small town. You might prefer these books if you don't like Rowling's harsh commentary on life.

Angela: There are so many well-written books out there to choose from. My all time favorite is “The Shadow of the Wind” by Carlos Ruiz Zafón – gripping and intense. I love anything by Kate Morton and am thrilled that she has a new book just hitting the shelves. I love books that capture the reader and take them away to the world of the author’s creation. There are books that are set in small towns like “The Casual Vacancy” that do a much better job of pulling you into their tale. One of my favorites in that regard is “We Were the Mulvaneys” by Joyce Carol Oates, a much more enjoyable read.

Angela Epp is an avid reader and writes book reviews for Focus on the Family’s Thriving Family Magazine. She has a business degree and has done a writing course with The Children’s Institute of Literature.

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