Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Books Like Whoa: The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

Ms. Rowling's long awaiting foray into the world of adult fiction! How did it go?

The Casual Vacancy
by J.K. Rowling

Procured from a certain ginormous online retailer

Procured in September 2012

Finished on December 16, 2012

Format: Hardback with the big bold lettering - not sure what's up with this current trend in book covers

Why I gave it a try: Really? Is there a question about this? If J.K. Rowling publishes a urban fantasy football novel with a duck-billed platypus as a detective on the trail of a alien super villan, I will read it. That's just how things are between us

Summary: Pagford is a quiet English village that is being split in two behind the scenes. On one side is the Mollisons and other villagers who don't want to continue to support low income housing on the boarder of the towns. On the other side, Barry Fairbrother and his supporters have been rallying around continuing to include these lower class citizens in the Pagford communities, with the better opportunities that Pagford residency includes. When Fairbrother unexpectedly dies, we see the impact on the community and individual lives through the eyes of a dozen different POV characters. 

Thoughts: Oh, Jo. I wanted to love this book. I was excited. I missed you. I obsessed over the release date and made my mom send the package to me in Canada, because I couldn't wait for the Christmas break to start on it. 

Then I started to read. And lingered on the first 75 pages over 3 months. Part of that is that "leisure reading" is kind of a joke in the middle of the semester. But if this book was a home-run, I would be sacrificing my sleep without complaint. 

So why am I not in love? Three reasons: 

1) This book is 150 pages too long. Rowling takes 200 pages to set up the plot before she gets cooking when she only needed 50. For no other author would I sit through the drudgery of the first 200 pages. That's the real shame of it, because once she launches into the meat of the story, it really is a page turner. Her typical prose that reads so effortlessly kicks in and you are willing to forgive more of the books flaws. 

2) Rowling gets so focused on conveying her message (which I don't even disagree with, but this is one of the more didactic novels I've read in a while) that her characters are rather stale. I don't mean that they aren't interesting or well described - they just don't really change. The bad guys are bad from the beginning. The good guys are good with failings from the beginning. She needs them to play their roles so specifically that it robs us from really wondering what is going to happen to these people. 

3) This really surprised me about the book, because Rowling is on the record as being very conscious about these kinds of things: all but one of the main female characters is more or less defined by her sexual identity. Some are man eaters, some are deluded about being used for sex, some are pejoratively labelled as lesbians, some are lesbians, some are prostitutes, some are known as the school sluts... but all these signifiers are based on their sexual relationships. The women are so sexualized that it starts to be cartoonish - I'm not sure if she's trying to make a point? That women are so often viewed as sexual objects in modern culture? I don't know. But I fount it disheartened that she chose to have that be such a prominent part of the women's plots. Maybe I'm reading too much into it.

But you know? I will still buy whatever this woman puts out. That's just how things are between us. I hope that this was a book that she had burning within her, that she had to write - and now that it's out, she can move onto something else. And perhaps allow someone to edit her.


First 200 pages:
2 - It's bad, y'all, with tantalizing glimpses of something worthwhile sprinkled in
Last 300 pages:
4 - I enjoyed it... a solid offering 

What do you do when a favorite author puts out a book that doesn't connect for you? 

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