I don't often write book reviews. In fact, I think this may be my first. But with everyone writing in about how terrible they thought this book was, I thought I'd chip in my two cents.
I thought about not reading this book due to the terrible response it was getting from die-hard J.K. Rowling fans. I didn't want this book to change my opinion that Rowling is one of the best writers out there, as it seemed to be doing for so many fans. I thought about it. I'm glad I ignored them all.
This book will not please everyone because it wasn't meant to. It's like a Tarantino film. It's gruesome, it's hard, and in that way, it is a realistic representation of certain aspects of life as many people experience it in this world. And, like a Tarantino film, this book draws these same hard aspects of life out to such an extreme that it seems to glory in them, making you feel like it's just a little too much -- what? Too much to handle maybe, or too much to believe, or possibly... too much like your own life to really be enjoyable.
The thing that makes the Harry Potter story so fantastic is that it is, actually, painful to the point of being diffult to bear. My childhood memories are flecked with grief drawn by Rowling's pen. I remember where I was when Sirius died, and Dumbledore, and Snape, and (fleetingly) Harry. I felt real, hard, human grief over a character. I mourned the death of -- what? Dumbledore was never more than a cluster of words on a page. How could I feel real feeling at this fictional loss? Still, I remember my dad explaining my sombre expression at a family function. "She just finished the sixth Harry Potter book," he said, and it was all he needed to say. They understood because they'd felt it themselves.
That, truly, is Rowling's power. She has the unique ability to make her readers really feel what her characters are feeling. When a character dies in her books, it can feel like a character in our own lives has passed away.
I would suggest that she has actually honed this power in writing "The Casual Vacancy." Harry Potter was able to escape the post-trauma pain that followed him by throwing himself into school work, solving the mysteries of his world, or exacting revenge.
Escape is not an option in Pagford. Though many of the characters think about getting out, and some try to, their endeavors are always somehow thwarted. Ultimately they must each turn and face the things that make their lives difficult.
It is not an easy book, but then, I don't think Rowling has written an easy book since "The Chamber of Secrets." It is an enjoyable read, if you are the kind of person who doesn't mind walking around in the shoes of people who have difficult lives for a while. "The Casual Vacancy" is complex. It constantly encourages its readers to form opinions about characters and organize them into neat little cubby holes. Then, again and again, Rowling throws those opinions into a vortex, leaving us to try and pick up the pieces of our misconceptions.
Like Zadie Smith's "White Teeth," it's a brilliant reflection of society. You'll like it, if you're the kind of person who isn't interested in an escape.
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