Friday, 8 February 2013

We're Not in Hogwarts Anymore, Hedwig

JK Rowling's The Casual Vacancy
So. I finally got around to reading JK Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy. Like every other novel this woman has written, I thought it was awesome. The characters, the setting, the plot... it was all amazing.

I’m a little bit ashamed that it’s taken me this long to get around to reading The Casual Vacancy, given that I love Rowling’s other works, but I guess it was partly because of the negative reviews surrounding it. If this book was going to let me down and reveal that Rowling was a one shot wonder, I wanted to keep my JK Rowling Fanboy soul intact for a little while longer.

But The Casual Vacancy didn’t let me down, and I still think that JK Rowling is a brilliant author. I want to discuss some of the negative points the reviewers bring up and add my own two-cents.

“It’s not the same as Harry Potter”
I think this is probably the root of all the problems. People have expected to pick this up and find out that it’s about the Ministry of Magic elections (and Harry Potter will obviously win at the end).

If you expect this, you are in for a very rude shock.

This book is about all the gritty things in life: sex, drugs, revenge, domestic abuse… To be honest, I think this is much more realistic than Rowling’s first series. Harry Potter showed us a fantastical world where good triumphs over evil, but we’re not in Hogwarts anymore, Hedwig. The Casual Vacancy paints a much more realistic picture of life: no one is truly good and no one is truly bad. The multiple POV characters show that everyone is the protagonist in their own story, and everyone is an antagonist in someone else’s.

This book is a heck of a lot more mature than Harry Potter. There’s the sex and violence, but there’s also a LOT of swearing. If you thought that Molly Weasley calling Bellatrix a bitch was bad, this is not the book for you. The Casual Vacancy has just about every rude four letter word you can think of. Not to mention the stuff the characters get up to. Hedwig would blush if Harry had done half the things the Pagford teens get up to.

“Too many characters”

“We don’t get to know the characters as intimately”
The Casual Vacancy has thirty four characters. Fifteen of them are POV characters. It’s a large cast of characters (and it’s a bit confusing at the beginning trying to remember their relationships) but I feel that it works. It shows that there are two sides of every story. We simultaneously love and hate everyone at the same time because we see what they do, but then we get inside their head and discover why they did it.

A New York Times review mentioned “We do not come away feeling that we know the back stories of the “Vacancy” characters in intimate detail the way we did with Harry and his friends and enemies…”. I don’t agree with this at all. Yes, we don’t get to know or care about the characters as much as we did at the end of Deathly Hallows, but it’s important to remember that we got to know all the characters of Hogwarts over seven novels. Could you really say that you cared that much about McGonagall at the end of Philosopher’s Stone? Did we really know that much about Dumbledore until the final book?

Considering that we only have 500 pages to get to know the people of Pagford I think we grow to care about them quite a bit. The large number of POV characters certainly helps: we become intimate with each character and quickly grow to love them. I cared about each character because I knew their dreams, their fears, their desires.

“There isn’t much of a plot”
At first it can seem that way, but in my opinion there are actually a lot of plots twisted up in the novel. As I said earlier, The Casual Vacancy is about real life, and so each character has their own little plot. They each have their own goals, conflicts, and motivations. Plot-wise, I’d probably compare The Casual Vacancy to a soap-opera in book form (only a heck of a lot more interesting).

“It’s not the same as Harry–”
Shush. We’ve already been over this. This isn’t Harry Potter 8. We’re not in Hogwarts anymore. JK Rowling has said this in multiple interviews. Move on.

“There’s too much swearing”
Yeah, there is. But that’s real life. If Rowling didn’t include all the swearing, it wouldn’t have been realistic, given whom the characters were. I understand that not everybody likes cursing in books and I think it should only be used when necessary. In my opinion, it was necessary.

Other common complaints I’ve seen:
“The cover was boring” True, but it has “JK Rowling” on it, so it doesn’t matter.
“The title was lame” Perhaps, but it’s by JK Rowling, so it doesn’t matter.
“It’s not the same as Harry Potter” WE KNOW. MOVE ON WITH YOUR LIFE.

So that’s my thoughts on JK Rowling’s latest novel. What about you? Have you read it? What did you think about it? If you haven’t read it, do you plan to? If not, why not? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below!


  1. Hm. Interesting. I definitely want to give this a shot to see if I like it at all.

    A thing, though. The cover WAS boring, but whatever, JK Rowling doesn't have much say in that(or maybe she did. I mean, she is JK Rowling. But whatever). But it's not a big deal.
    However, the title I think depends. I'd have to read the book first, but the title the author DOES have more say in, so unless the title really fits the book, I'm gonna be taking issue with that. There is no excuse for JK FREAKING ROWLING to have a lame title, because as you pointed out, she's JK Rowling. She's ridiculously creative. I'm going to be highly disappointed if she just slapped a title on without a thought about it.

    Just sayin'.

  2. So…I haven't read the book. Don't be ashamed that it's taken you this long to get to it. XD That said, I probably won't read it, and you've touched on a couple of the reasons why, actually. THE COVER WAS BORING.

    Just kidding. =P I thought the cover was pretty good, in its simplicity. But for real, the two reasons I'm not going to read it are the swearing(and other material I find objectionable—I'm all for realism, but I just personally don't want that level of 'grittiness' in my head), and because it's not Harry Potter. The first point is pretty self-explanatory, but the second I'll explain a bit.

    I think of JK Rowling as an excellent storyteller—but not an excellent writer. Because there's a difference: in the first, I'm there for the plot and characters, in the second, I'm there for the whole experience. So while I love her plot and characters, her voice is a neutral factor for me.

    This means I read Harry Potter, not for JK FREAKING ROWLING, but for HARRY FREAKING POTTER. XP So, while I admire her work with Harry and what she's accomplished, if her next book(s) don't sound interesting to me, plot-wise, I won't be interested—because her voice is a neutral party, for me. If it goes somewhere I don't feel like going, I won't go, and a soap opera book about a town just isn't down my alley. It's a simple problem of personal preference there. *shrug* …And alliteration. XD

    There's also the third, auxiliary reason—that there are too many (POV) characters. I don't think it's always best to limit yourself to one or two(obviously, I have four. =P) but at the same time, I think a line needs to be drawn somewhere. Fifteen is way over where I'd draw that line. It's definitely MUCH more difficult to show where characters are coming from from the outside, but it's also more intriguing, as a reader. For me, at least. So I guess my opinion is that having 15 POV characters speaks more of…almost laziness, I guess, rather than the ability to handle that many characters.

    That's obviously just my opinion, and without having read the book. My mind might change if I were to read it, but I probably won't. (See reasons 1 & 2, subsection A. =P) Sorry for the length of the comment! I'm trying to make sure I've explained myself well enough, so it doesn't come off as JK Rowling-bashing. Because when it comes down to it, it's really just a matter of taste. Her writing is like chocolate ice cream, Harry Potter had chunks of brownie, and I was reading for the brownie chunks, not the chocolate ice cream. She dropped the brownie chunks and added caramel swirl, and I just don't like caramel. XP