Thursday, 4 October 2012

The Casual Vacancy Readalong: Part One (no spoilers)

The Casual Vacancy Readalong is being hosted by Beth at Bookworm Meets Bookworm and Brenna at Literary Musings.  It's been divided into two parts: this first one is non-spoiler-y general impressions, and the second (next Thursday) will be the full in depth review.

I have finished the book.  I sat up till 3.30 Saturday night/Sunday morning to do so, mostly because I wasn't tired and I only had 100 pages to go so I really thought I ought to finish.  I then sat for a while trying to decide how I felt about the book, sent some sleep-deprived tweets on the subject, and went to sleep. 

I am still trying to decide exactly what I think about the book. 

To be honest, I'm disappointed by it.  Without spoiling, I feel like it started strongly, had a decent middle and then failed at the end.  I think the ending was what J.K. Rowling was writing towards rather than where the story should have gone, if that makes sense; like it was planned so therefore it had to happen.  I don't know, it felt forced.  I'll be able to talk about this in more detail next week when I can say how it ended (to an extent, I'm not going to flat out tell everything) and I'm actually worried that even my disappointment is a spoiler, but the more I think about it the more I dislike how it ended.

Time for some bullet points, I think (this combination of trying not to give anything away and still being unsure how I feel is tricky).

1) A lot of Harry Potter fans have been running around saying this ruins HP for them and it's destroyed their childhood and what?  I treat this as completely separate to Harry Potter.  This is what J.K. Rowling chose to write next, not how Harry's world/life now is. 

2) Having said that, I did spend way too much time going "oh my God, J.K. Rowling used a swear word!" or "oh my God, J.K. Rowling mentioned sex!" like she's not an intelligent, grown woman who's also a bit of a badass.  I found it very difficult, especially for the first 30 or so pages, to separate the book from who wrote it.  Usually I can do that just fine, even for writers I love, so that made this a weird experience.

3) This inability to completely separate who wrote it from the book itself has been what's tripped me up a lot, I think.  I didn't go in expecting to love it like I love Harry Potter, but I did want to like it more.  I almost felt like giving the book extra points for being written by JKR, as if that could somehow mitigate the problems I have with it.  If anything, I wish it was better because I know how good she is.

(This is turning into a circular argument, welcome to my head on this subject).

I was going to write something about the politics of the novel, but both times I tried it turned into a rant about the coalition government which got a bit juvenile.  Suffice to say, this is a very political novel, and it said a lot about what's happening in Britain today.  However, I'm not sure how much it will actually change things, as those who agree with her don't need to be convinced and those who disagree won't be won round.  I do think it was an important novel to write, though, if only because one of the most famous women in the world talking about these things and stating her position is always going to get some attention.

So, in short (and this post is a mess, I know) I'm disappointed by this novel but I'm glad I read it, if only to say that I have.  This is no way changes how I feel about Harry Potter or J.K. Rowling, and anything she publishes I'll buy and read.  I just wish I'd liked this book more.


  1. I'm only about 220 pages in and haven't been very impressed thus far. I have managed to separate the previous works to this, but there's just something there that makes me feel like parts aren't genuine. While I understand that topics like sex and drug use are more adult subjects and aren't something writers should shy away from, I almost feel like she included them at the such a rate that it was only added to make her novel seem gritty, or the exact opposite (to some extent) from the HP series. It was almost as if she knew that the world expected it and she had to deliver. Perhaps that's the cynic speaking as I'm not a fan of throwing it in for the sake of entertainment. I'm still hoping to be more impressed as the novels moves to the end but I'll keep this in mind. Excited to circle back in and discuss it once I'm finally finsihed.

  2. Aww man I'm sorry to hear you didn't like this book! Especially the second half, because I was really hoping it would pick up! You do make really good points about the novel itself and how hard it is to get beyond Rowling as a YA writer when reading her adult stuff. There have been a few passages I read when I think, OMG JK Rowling you can't talk that way! But if it were any other writer, male or female, I wouldn't have been fazed.

  3. But I want to hear your political rant! I don't know enough about current British politics to be able to judge how much JKR is taking a stand, but I do know that the themes she's working with in Casual Vacancy are also incredibly relevant to the political climate in the US.

    I'm sad to hear that you didn't like the ending, but I'm not giving up hope! So far I'm very much enjoying the novel, but odd characters in tiny towns are totally my cup of tea -- so maybe I'll like it even if the end is improbable. We'll see... Looking forward to reading your spoilery post next week!


  4. I finished it early on as well and I actually really enjoyed it! I admit that I even sort of loved it, simply for the fact that it was extremely political and exposed the hypocrisy in people without apology. In that sense, I thought it was brilliant and it did keep me turning the pages, wondering what would happen next. What's interesting for me is that I thought that I would have a hard time separating HP from this new book, but I actually didn't, which I don't know how that happened! I'm looking forward to your thoughts next week!


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