Book review: The casual vacancy

The Casual Vacancy is J. K. Rowling's new book for adults.  I have to admit that I started it with very low expectations, mainly reading it because, hey, I'm a librarian and people are going to ask what I think aren't they?

The start was a bit clunky and I wasn't very impressed by her writing, but by the quarter mark I was hooked and Rowling's story telling skill (which frankly is what has got her through Harry Potter) took over.

The book reminded me of a grittier Maeve Binchy.  Set in a small country town in England, Rowling has basically written a social commentary of a town that includes all classes and the tensions that exist between them.  It's not a pretty picture that she paints and none of the people are particularly likeable characters (perhaps the character that dies early on is the nicest person in the book).  It's also all fairly depressing and there are some confronting aspects to it (teenage s*x, drug use, child neglect).

Rowling does teenagers well and they were some of my favourite characters in the book - she gives good insights into the thinking of adolescents.  I guess this skill may be partly what made Harry Potter popular.

I'll be interested to see what others think as more people read it.  But I did feel sad when I finished, having enjoyed my little visit into the mad world of Pagford.


Miriam said…
Hi Jenny!
I'm in the middle of reading this book now. I am a Harry Potter fan, so naturally was curious to read it - and it was gifted to me at Christmas which was a bonus!

But, I'm actually finding it quite confronting. I wouldn't have said that I'm the most conservative of people, but I'm wondering now whether I am!! I just find the language and s*x a bit hard to take, especially late at night when I want to read for relaxation, and leave myself with a warm fuzzy feeling before drifting off to sleep. :) I'm not wanting to make anyone feel bad for reading this book, or anything similar, but I was just wondering how you deal with it all. You must have to read all kinds of stuff!

I like the idea of reading what's current, just so that I can keep engaging with others, but I'm finding it increasingly hard to do so. Does content ever bother you like this? Is there ever a point where you decide not to finish a book? At what point do we draw the line and be in the world but not of the world, you know?

Just curious to what you think anyway!
Jenny said…
Yes,it's true, I do read all sorts of stuff so I'm probably becoming less sensitive than I should be. I did find this book confronting but I also find it helpful sometimes to be reminded of the reality of sin. A book I found unbearable and almost didn't finish (and I know many who didn't) was the Australian book 'The Slap'. Unrelentingingly horrible people and scenarios. I spoke to a friend who isn't a Christian about the book and said 'but this can't be real, I don't know people like this' and she just quietly chuckled and said 'oh you're so naive Jenny'. I was very thankful at that point for God's work in my life and his provision of godly friends.

I would definitely go with your conscience - don't read things just because they're popular. And if you hate it, stop. I've started loads of books that I haven't finished - for all kinds of reasons. I think it can be a good witness to explain to others why you are choosing not to read a book - often people haven't thought about that much and it can be thought provoking for them.

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