The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling
This book has been a mixed-bag of reviews. Here’s mine:
I want to preface this by saying I haven’t read a Harry Potter book since the last one came out. So, I think it was much easier for me to distance myself from Rowling, the-author-of-Harry-Potter, and to think of her just as Rowling, author.
As I was reading this book, I kept having a recurrant thought which built on each reappearance. 503 pages later, here is the finished product: This is an ugly novel about ugly people with ugly lives.
Which, I think, is what she was trying to do all along. People mentioned that they didn’t like any of the characters, didn’t like the sex/drugs/affairs/rape/insert-morally-offensive-topic-here, and just generally found the whole thing to be overwrought, too long, too much, too this, too that.
I read some snippets of Renee’s review (The Quick Red Fox) and find myself inclined to agree with her. This book reminds me very much of Kent Haruf’s Plainsong and Steven Gilbert’s A Lovely, Indecent Departure. All three novels are a bit ugly, about ugly people and ugly lives. In order of likeability and degree of ugliest, Plainsong emerges top of the heap and The Casual Vacancy squarely at the bottom.
In an odd way, I think slice-of-life novels are among the most difficult to pull off. I should know. I’m writing one. For one thing, they don’t rely on a super-charged plot. It’s amazing how much readers will forgive if the plot is exciting/interesting. I’m extremely guilty of this. But in a slice-of-life, you have nothing to hide behind. There is only the strength of your own writing and your own characterization. No mystery, no magic, no thriller. Only words on a page and how you convince the reader to keep going.
I sat next to someone on the plane yesterday who asked me about the book. He didn’t even know the premise. I had a hard-time explaining it.( At that time, slice-of-life was evading me. ) It’s odd though. We don’t have a lot of ready-made words for these types of novels. Partly, I suspect, because slice-of-life novels often find themselves thrown underneath the umbrella of something else and partly because stories of this kind have greatly fallen out of fashion. I can certainly think of more “classic” slice-of-lifes than their modern counterparts.
I liked this book. I did. Do I see why people didn’t like it? Absolutely. In fact, this book probably would have been better hailed if it didn’t have Rowling’s name on it. I remember, once, I was reading an article in which someone postulated that Rowling might take a penname for all future works. At the time, I didn’t see that it mattered. Now, I do.
I do like that this novel was so ugly in so many ways. People and real-life are often quite ugly. That’s why some of the best novels about crime are the non-fiction ones. Because truth is often stranger than fiction.