16 October 2012
Review: The Casual Vacancy
The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I wanted to love this book.
I wanted to enjoy it because I figured the bad reviews might be focused more on how this isn't really Harry Potter and it's her first adult book and etc etc. The inner contrarian in me was excited to find a gem within a book that everyone is reading and no one is especially excited about.
To be charitably blunt, this book isn't very good.
The book follows a group of people following the passing of one of the members of town government. The book spends 500 pages with them coping with the death, with each other, and with the casual vacancy within their town's board. That's...essentially it. Some things happen to people, they supposedly grow and change, and...yeah. That's it.
Here's the chief problem with this book, something I've defined in my head as the Perotta Paradox. Named after Tom Perotta, it's about how a book has a great concept, drops you right in the middle of it, and then proceeds to go absolutely nowhere for nearly all the book before ending somewhere in the middle of these people's lives with no good resolution. Tom Perotta is excellent at this - I've read nearly all his books and only two of them have truly escaped this problem in a significant way.
Rowling's problem, in this book, is that it takes 350 pages for the what - in this case, the death - to translate into something that creates a conflict worth caring about (without giving it away, the message board). The 350 pages preceding this point, in a better book, should establish why we should care about these characters, and this is ultimately where the book fails. I tried so hard to find that hook because, hey, after Harry Potter, JK Rowling deserves the benefit of the doubt, right? Unfortunately, that payoff never really comes about, instead we're forced into bad sex and bad accents and too much cursing and too many people you ultimately read to escape from, not read more about.
It's especially difficult because you know there's a good storyteller capable of solid, nuanced, complex stories in there. This book tries to do that over a single volume, but falls flat most of the time. It's unfortunate and disappointing, and I really, really hope that the next chapter for Rowling is better.
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