The Casual Vacancy

It’s been awhile since I’ve blogged for many reasons and I think that it will be awhile before I get back to doing so regularly again. However, there is one book that finally deserves to be put up on here. It’s probably also fitting that it may be my last (for a day, a week, or even forever…who knows).

As one of the biggest J.K. Rowling fans you could ever meet (if you don’t believe me, ask my friends and family) it was inevitable that I would be one of the first to read her latest work the second it came out, right? Wrong. I waited. I have to admit, I was incredibly nervous. Nothing could ever live up to the Harry Potter books in my eyes and what if this ruined my idol for me? I was quiet about the release, watching the media work itself up into a vicious frenzy. Then came the reviews.

“Sadly, Rowling’s first post-“Potter” effort, “The Casual Vacancy,” is, for lack of a better term, casually vacant of any magic.” ~ The Observer.

“…in Rowling’s oppressive authorial hand and frenetic pacing, the plot has been flatlined by coincidence and predictability.” ~The Globe and Mail.

“Unfortunately, the real-life world she has limned in these pages is so wilfully banal, so depressingly clichéd that The Casual Vacancy is not only disappointing — it’s dull.” ~The New York Times.

“It’s the equivalent of Raffi making a late-career swerve into death metal, or Mr. Dressup doing David Mamet.” ~ Toronto Star.

Of course it got its fair share of good reviews, but those trickled in slowly and with feeble whimpers, overshadowed by the large front-page banners claiming that Rowling had lost her magic. My particular favourite was a reviewer, who shall not be mentioned, who said something along the lines of “The problem with this book is that it’s not Harry Potter”. Hello, sir/madam, did you see any of the pre-publication buzz? Were you under the impression that this was to be Harry Potter 8? Tsk.

This was all very disappointing to me. I knew it wouldn’t be another Harry Potter the moment it was announced but I also didn’t want it to be the biggest flop I had ever read. I decided to wait to read the book. I used the excuse that I was going to wait till I got my signed copy in New York City, after attending the only North American promotional event J.K. Rowling would be doing. I was also terrified of finally meeting the woman I hero-worshipped for half of my life. As circumstance would have it, personal matters overshadowed the entire event and the experience was glazed with a sense of disconnect and tremendous grief. There was, however, one very special moment. When I finally stood in front of her to get my book signed, she actually looked at me. We locked eyes. For that brief time everything cleared away and I was left with the happy thought that in a nugget of time, she knew I was there. We even managed a few words. I frankly don’t want to remember much of that day, but I will happily carry with me those precious 30 seconds. But I digress.

I finally got down to reading the book. Here’s what an unbiased (I PROMISE) reader has to say…

If you’re a person who reads strictly for pleasure and distraction, this is not the book for you. It’s not an easy read nor is it a happy one. It is gritty with veiled dark humour. If you’re not one for that sort of story, move along and don’t waste your money.

To those of you who say that Rowling has lost her magic, I say “What the heck were you reading?” Her depiction of characters is unreal. Banal was a favourite word among the reviewers. I’d like to invite them to refer back to their dictionaries that are surely gathering dust on their shelves. If issues like extra-marital affairs, bullying, regret, self-mutilation, teenage insecurity, recidivism, and socio-political issues are “cliched” and “banal”, then clearly real life in general is the dullest concept of all. We should all start sky diving and playing with magic wands on the reg. Obviously.

These characters are real people. They have conflicted emotions, disgusting thoughts, betraying tendencies, insecurities, fantasies, and, somehow, immense hope. The concepts may not be foreign, but isn’t that the beauty of it all? That Rowling managed to capture so many raw human emotions and put them to paper? That taste and smell of blood without ever describing it, the nausea-inducing plummet of a heart when a man and woman know that they’re in a dead-end relationship but neither can say it, that overpowering fear of a girl who knows she’ll be tormented if she looks up in class without ever mentioning her thought process. THAT’S WRITING. To create one character, even two, even five, that are this well-formed is a feat. For Rowling to populate a small town with individuals that leap off the page with all their grim traits, is just astounding. Heck, half the time I can barely even describe what I’m feeling to myself! Maybe that’s just me and secretly the rest of the world walks the straight and narrow path to self-realization like it’s a piece of cake. How utterly banal.

The story sucked me in and (annoyingly!) tugged at every chord in my heart that I never wanted to acknowledge. Rowling didn’t pull a single punch and she had me grimacing and cringing. Sometimes I was relieved to put the book down, but then I realized I simply had to know what was happening next. The characters walked in and out of my sub-consciousness and I found myself projecting ahead. I don’t know about you, but to me that spells a damned good book. Despite being a harsh story, I found myself chuckling at numerous instances. Her technique of interjecting humour that isn’t obvious and is shown through subtle actions (not even dialogue!) left me in awe. It’s not a story I would normally read but I was wrapped up in it from start to finish. Most importantly, I never once thought “Oh, this is so J.K. Rowling”. The book had a life of it’s own. Just as she promised.

Ultimately I have to say this: if The Casual Vacancy had been penned under a pseudonym, I’m dead certain the reviews would have been starkly different and all for the positive. I went in with low expectations thanks to word of mouth and the media, but even if I had gone in with the highest of expectations, I wouldn’t have been disappointed. The novel delivers a complex and unexaggerated story with unforgettable characters.

J.K. Rowling, you’ve done it again.

As for the haters: http://imgur.com/gallery/FBlA4

The Casual Vacancy    

Recommendation Rate       

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4 thoughts on “The Casual Vacancy

  1. Pingback: Over a cup of tea… | The Domestic Blonde

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