How (not) to read The Casual Vacancy
read it just because
it's written by JK Rowling.
expect it to be like Harry Potter - i.e, magic stuff. (Read the blurb, nimrod)
expect a murder mystery - it isn't one.
read it if you are not comfortable with the fact that the woman who might have moulded your childhood, is writing about drugs, teen sex, prostitution, rape etc. - this book isn't for you.
compare this with her previous works, for the love of God!
When it was announced that Jo Rowling was coming out with a new book, comparisons with the Harry Potter series were inevitable. No matter how many times, and in how many interviews, Jo insisted over and over again that 'THIS IS NOT A HARRY POTTER BOOK NOR IS IT ANYTHING LIKE IT', a small part inside every fan, desperate for another book in the series (understandably), hoped for it anyway.
(And so, when they were invariably proved wrong, there was backlash. Half the negative reviews on Goodreads are because it's 'not a harry potter book', which just pisses me off, so let's not go there)
The Casual Vacancy is as steeped in reality as the Harry Potter books are removed from it. There's nothing fantastical about the story - it's simple and plain, told by holding nothing back.
The characterization in this book is simply mind-blowing. Each and every one of the characters is so very real
(I know this word's been thrown around a lot, but seriously, there's no other way to describe them), and authentic. Through the course of the book, they are all ripped apart, dissected with unflinching honesty and laid bare for the readers to see. There are very few likeable characters in the book, whom we can root for and hope that things work out for them eventually, but all of them end up earning our sympathies in the end.
People have said that the characters in this book are not relatable at all. I disagree. Which one of us hasn't felt like a victim of the circumstances - hopeless, unloved, desperate, bullied, frustrated, at the end of our tether - at some point in our lives? We are all in the pages of this book. It's just that our stories are different. I think Jo has expertly managed to capture and show the best and the worst of human behaviour in the book; the worst being the inability to see beyond ourselves and our petty problems, while the best being our capability to change ourselves.
Having said that, the biggest strength of the book is also, unfortunately, its biggest weakness. The setting up of the characters and their lives just takes too long. The plot, if you can call it that, begins to move ahead only after about 300 pages or so. Which was probably the reason why it took me this long to finish the book - I was plodding along until I was so caught up that I couldn't put the book down.
The final few pages of the book were brilliant and typically Jo - sad, yet beautiful and touching at the same time. I don't understand why people say the ending was abrupt. For me, there was absolute and complete closure which left me smiling and feeling content
long after I finished reading (Always a sign of a good book!).
I would like to reiterate that 'The Casual Vacancy' will not be for everybody
. Some of you will probably give up after the first hundred pages, others will crawl along because it's Jo, and in the hope that she might pull a rabbit out of her hat at the end and surprise you with something "magic-ky" (she doesn't). Quite a few of you will hate it, but that's probably be because this not your genre and you only picked up this book because of Jo, so, in that case, it's not her, it's you.
With this book, Jo has proved beyond a doubt that she can WRITE no matter what the genre is, that she still has that magical ability to tap into some part of us, connect with us and make us care, despite ourselves. However, unlike the Harry Potter books, this book will probably not be changing any lives any time soon (it certainly didn't change mine), but I'm glad to have read it, nonetheless.