Saturday, April 13, 2013

Sigh. The Casual Vacancy.


I was so excited by the "let's read this book at the same time" plan. Too bad this book is so awful. And I've gotta tell you, I can hardly believe I wrote those words. It's J.K. Rowling! How can I think it's awful? I feel like I just punched one of the Weasley twins in the face.

We've talked a lot about the weight of expectations. But what do you do when you expect not to think much of a book and your expectations are low...and you actually dislike it MORE than you expected. Oof.

Here's my problem. I'm about 25% of the way through the book. Right now, if it wasn't for you, I'd put this book down and never pick it back up again.

1) Despite the rather exciting and dramatic inciting incident, there has not been a single other noteworthy plot element that has taken place in the book. And I've gotta tell you, this is *killing* me. I guess I did have one expectation going into this, which is that at the very least I could count on J. K. Rowling to have a well-plotted book. But nothing is happening. And because of nothing happening...

2)...None of the characters seem interesting, exciting, likeable, or distinctive. Literally every time the book switches perspective, I have to force myself to remember any sort of salient details about the person and his or her relationship to the other characters.

3) Speaking of characters, am I the only one who thinks that there are just too many of them? And that we know the perspectives of too many of them? My favorite phrase for this is "head hopping" and usually I actually don't usually mind perspective switching. I like knowing what everyone is thinking. But they also have to be *doing* something apparently. As it is, this is just a maelstrom of angry, worried, small-minded people thinking mean, uncharitable thoughts. Mmmm. Fun.

4) I have an awful feeling that this isn't actually a book, but rather Rowling out to prove something: let me take all the awesome and great things about Harry Potter and do *everything exactly the opposite* so that all these adult readers get that I'm serious and I mean business and that I'm a real author now! The problem to me is that the net result, at least so far, is a misanthropic, meandering mess. I'm not saying that books need to be sunny and bright and cheerful in order for me to read them, but this has really nothing to offer me.

I'm struggling.

PS How do you say Pagford? Pag rhymes with Lag? Or more like page?
PPS How many times will she use the term "casual vacancy" and why does it make me feel like she thinks I'm too dumb to remember; Or perhaps she's worried we won't get the metaphor, yes, yes, it's about death. I get it.


  1. I'll address the easiest topic first... Pag rhymes with Lag. (Of course, with the English accent, it's "pag-fehd" Heh.)

    As for the rest... I can't disagree with any of the things that you've said. I'm almost done with it and I wish I could say, "Oh -- it gets better!" But...I kind of can't. We *do* get more plot... and there is character development... and dramatic (and terrible) shit comes down towards the end, but... is that "better"? I'm not sure.

    I've had a couple of tricks for getting through it -- not sure why I'm so dogged about finishing this thing, but it is *very* hard for me to stop reading a book (I did it earlier this year for the first time I can remember and I kept thinking, "How did that book end up?" for *weeks*. I think I would have forgotten it immediately if I had just finished. I guess I don't like loose ends?) and once I'd committed the time to learning 34 characters (I could have used this character guide from the start!) I feel like, "All right. I need to stick it out and find out what happens to these bitches." It sort of has a "soap opera" vibe to me... maybe because I've been listening, rather than reading? It's like a radio serial or something, which has made it... strangely addictive.

    I truly came into this book completely cold -- I had *no* idea what it was about. I thought maybe it was about a hotel? (Vacancy... right?) Since starting it, I have spent some time investigating on the Internet to find out more. Here are a couple of things I found of interest:

    1. The working title of this book was Responsible and I think that's about 1000x better that the title it ended up with. The *least* interesting topic in this book is the damned casual vacancy. I think couching all of these stories within the framework of "responsibility" would make it so much more interesting. Especially since part of the cast of thousands is teenagers. Who is responsible for (and, more importantly, *taking* responsibility for [or not]) their actions? As for the adults... who is owning up to their responsibilities, who is shirking theirs, when should responsibility be shared? The ideas are *in* the book, but planting that seed with the title would really set the stage (in fact, I read that about 1/3 of the way in and, I will say, it has shaped my thoughts about the novel ever since.)

    2. Your suspicion in point 4 is supported quite well by this quote from Rowling herself: "There is no part of me that feels that I represented myself as your children’s babysitter or their teacher. I was always, I think, completely honest. I’m a writer, and I will write what I want to write." While I *agree* with her, I think that strident voice comes out so much in this book: "Look, fuckers! I can write nasty shit too!" Um, okay?

    If you decide to bail, I completely understand. I wouldn't mind talking about the drama that happens at the end, but I can certainly live without it. (And, honestly, I could probably just tell you what happens and that would be enough for us to discuss...)

  2. I will finish it! No worries! This is a good thing about usually reading least I can power through. In fact, I should go read some more right now. Honestly, I'm super glad you told me what to expect, because if I had come upon the thing you describe after all my "this sucks" feelings. Well.

    As it is, I am still working on it. You're done, then?

  3. That is the most damning and hilarious headline ever. The cast of caricatures. Haha!

  4. I finished this morning. And, believe it or not, more terrible stuff happens after the thing that I told you about, so buckle in.

  5. J.K. Rowling, you scamp:

  6. I'm conflicted about this story -- what do you think?

    On one hand, I applaud the pseudonym move -- it's what I thought she should have done with Casual Vacancy! (Rather than risking so much comparison to HP + her strident efforts to prove she wasn't "just" a children's author getting in the way).

    On the other hand… this seems really contrived. The book was released less than 3 months before the Secret Tweet and *immediate* "Aw shucks -- you got us!" response happened. It feels like someone panicked and said, "Oh, shit -- this thing isn't going to make us any money if we don't hitch it to the Rowling Wagon! Go! Go!"

  7. Basically, your last paragraph. Exactly. It's all fun & games until no one notices and buys the book. Meanwhile, who am I kidding? I love mysteries and would totally read it. I'll wait until my school library buys it ;-)

  8. And... I'll wait until you read it and report back! ;)

  9. Well, I liked it. Here are my thoughts, chapter-by-chapter:

    And Daniel's: