Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Review

I'm not in the habit of reviewing books here - lots of other people do that but I just finished reading The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling and I wanted to share a few thoughts with you.  According to the jacket of the book, it's about what happens when a parish Councillor in a small English town dies unexpectedly and there is an election held to replace him.

As you may know, the reviews on this were very mixed when it was released.  Some said it was a brilliant departure from the Harry Potter franchise which has placed Rowling firmly in the ranks of successful contemporary writers, others said it was drivel that was only published because of her past economic successes as an author and she should have quit while she was ahead.  I admit it took me almost five weeks to read a 500 page novel - a very long time for me.  I usually read much faster than that but the first 150 - 200 pages or so of the book are very slow.  Not much happens - other than the Councillor in question dies - and a huge cast of characters is introduced.  So I kept reading, waiting for something to happen and struggled to keep track of who was who.  Imagine my surprise when the plodding book became a page turner!

The thing is, this is not a plot driven book.  If you're looking for a 'story' that follows traditional patterns then put this down and keep looking; you probably won't enjoy it.  It is not a blow by blow account of what happens in the two sides of the election, the battle for the seat and who wins though that is certainly a part of the book.   Rather, it is a complex analysis of how people react when tested.  And as we all know, testing means different things to different people.

It is about combating addiction, and how addiction is the same and recovery is precarious whether you're a 'white trash junkie' or an upper middle class alcoholic.  It is about courage - the courage to live a normal life when battling mental illness.  It is about facing down your personal demons.  It is about being a parent and and protecting your children.  It is about the relationships between teens and their parents.  It is about different forms of abuse and why we tolerate it.  It is also about hope.  Some parts of the book were so emotionally raw it was difficult to read, some parts were sorta dull, some parts were horrifying, and some parts were laugh-out-loud funny.  Just like life.

6 comments:

  1. what a good and clear review. I like that you are able to be honest about the books flaws and strengths without making it seem like it suffers from either.

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    1. Thanks! It wasn't a perfect book, but it provoked an emotional reaction and left me thinking about the tragedy of a few characters so in that sense it was well done.

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  2. Really enjoyed your review. I read so many trash reviews of this book that didn't touch on the points you made.

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    1. I'm glad you enjoyed it. I too read a lot of poor reviews but there were also some good ones thrown in. That's when I decided I wanted to read it for myself and make my own decision.

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  3. For the record, I did quite enjoy this book, once it got going. My grandfather always said that he would give any book 50 pages, and if it couldn't get started in 50 pages then it wasn't worth reading. This book takes 200 and that is what is killing the reviews. Once the book is finished, you realize that those 200 pages are there to set up the rest of the story. Could it have been done better? Probably - there are a couple subplots which fizzle out and I think should have been edited out in the review. Then again, it could be argued that these subplots serve to provide character development for a couple 'people' who would otherwise remain very two-dimensional. Is it worth reading? Well, if you like stories about people, then absolutely I think you'd enjoy it. If you like stories that tell a tale, then this might not be your thing.

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  4. I haven't read any of Rowling's books but have read Vikram Seth's wrist breaking, "A Suitable Boy." I think that "The Casual Vacancy" is a must read for me, since your review sets it in such a better light. Thank you! Sorry, no underlining facility.

    I recently found a new Jane Smiley. I'm pinching myself with happiness, now.

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