When I finished listening to this book I immediately wanted to talk about it. My initial feeling was one of bafflement, mostly because, while this book was not what I consider "enjoyable" by most of the definitions I use for that word - I did enjoy it.
I tend to be drawn to books that will allow me to disappear into them. I want to escape from reality and inhabit a different world for a while, fall in love, have grand adventures, make new friends. This was not the book for any of that. Instead The Casual Vacancy keeps you right here in "the real world". More than that, it shines an unforgiving light into all of the dingiest, ugliest, saddest and most tragic corners of the world and introduces you to a whole town full of despicable, ugly and tragic characters and it does it in a gorgeous way. The world is painted with the skilled brushes of JK Rowlings fantastic command of language and brilliant story-telling.
This is the first Tom Hollander narration that I have listened to. I have listened to A Lot of audiobooks though, and have experienced that a narrator can make or break a book in audio format. I enjoyed Tom Hollander very much.
Like the rest of the world, I became a fan of the author through the charming and magical world she created with Harry Potter. Those audiobooks are some of my absolute favorites. I have listened to them over and over - they are a great thing to just throw on when I am bored and have nothing new to listen to. It has been my experience that JK Rowling's books have many and unexpected layers, so I WILL be listening to this book again once it has had a bit more time to digest in my head, though I don't see it going onto my list of often repeated files.
Because I do enjoy that world so much I really wanted to support the author in this newest endeavor. I went in knowing that this was an adult book, not a fantasy/sci-fi book and most definitely NOT HP. Even so, it was difficult to divorce myself from those preconceived notions and just give this book a shot on it's own merits. There were a few spots in the book where I found myself pulled out of the story a bit by the swearing. I found myself wondering how much of it was necessary to the story and how much of it was an artifice to break from the HP mold. I do not have an issue with swearing, and it is clear that some measure of it is completely appropriate, and perhaps even necessary to illustrate the world created in The Casual Vacancy. There were still a few spots where it seemed - contrived almost - and reminded me that I was reading a JK Rowling book rather than getting me to forget about the author and immerse into the story.
I don't want to live in this world (even though I am aware that I do). All in all though, I am glad I made the purchase, and though this book had a lot of hurdles to jump - I think that it was worth the effort to experience what I view as a piece of art. The characters in this book are not the loveable oddballs of HP, but they do show that Rowling can create the rainbow of despicable humanity just as well.
I don't feel like I have said a whole lot to really encourage anyone towards this story, but I do think that any book that makes you think, makes you want to talk about it, makes you pause and reassess the way you view the world, is a good book. The Casual Vacancy did all of those things for me. Instead of wanting to escape into it's world it made me relieved to return to my own. Instead of falling in love with the characters, it made me recall why I love the people in my own. Instead of making me want to escape, it actually made me want to take action.
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