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.
I was a little ... hrm ... hesitant about this book when I learned that it was a back-story book instead of a chronologically "next" in the series book. That seems to be kind of a theme with some of my favorite authors at the moment - going back to a time before the main character in a well established series has fully become the character that I as the reader have become attached to. It is an interesting idea, but one that I think has a lot of potential for disaster, so yeah ... a little trepidation going into this book.
Having said all of that, I LOVED this book. I liked the fact that it was presented as the current incarnation of Rain sharing reflections on his past rather than actually lifting the reader out of the established time-line and completely relocating them into the past. Some of the reflective asides made by Rain during the telling were quite amusing. "I was hard in about zero point two seconds. Yeah, 20 years old."
The first time I picked up a John Rain/Barry Eisler book it was because I was curious to see how an author would go about having a hired murderer as a sympathetic protagonist. I was hooked from that first book, and if I hadn't already been sold on the idea, with Graveyard of Memories I am absolutely sold on the idea of assassin as sympathetic protagonist.
Not only did Graveyard of Memories serve to flesh out an established and already well-loved character, but it was a good story all on it's own. I always enjoy the particular recipe that Barry Eisler has for blending the setting, the action, the characters and the intrigue. This book did not disappoint. The action sequences were exciting, the machinations of the antagonists convoluted, the romantic tension alluring, the cast of characters engaging and the journey from chapter one through the end of the book compelling.
I am so glad that Barry Eisler has decided to narrate his own books. I have completely fallen in love with his voice. After listening to Graveyard of Memories, I find myself wanting to go back and re-listen to the rest of the series again - only this time with the Barry Eisler narrations instead of the original studio hired narrations. He displays all of my favorite qualities of a narrator. He has good pacing, distinct voices, including accents, and is emotive without being over the top and obnoxious or dragging the listener from the story. I'd listen to *anything* Barry Eisler should choose to narrate, but it is particularly compelling knowing that he is breathing audible life into his own creations.
If you are a fan of the series, this book will not disappoint. If you haven't yet tried the series you should start at book 1, but this isn't a terrible place to begin either. It would work as a stand alone story and would not ruin or spoil any of the previous books should you then decide to pursue them.
Overall I definitely think that this book is and was well worth the credit.
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