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Customer Review

907 of 1,089 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A hot mess worth zero stars (spoiler alert), September 30, 2012
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This review is from: The Casual Vacancy (Hardcover)
I was interested in reading what JKR had to say as an adult novelist - my kids grew up along with Harry Potter, and although I loved those books, I thought that a writer of her prodigious talent would probably be able to pull off a non-Potter adult novel with ease.

I was so wrong. Dear God, was I wrong.

The novel began with a sharp step off the curb and never regained its footing, staggering on through hundreds of pages of misery, not just for the characters in the book, but also for the eager reader, whose enthusiasm hit rock bottom at about page 100. I only persevered because my mama taught me not to be a quitter.

It's hard to know where to begin, but it's probably best to start with the many, many characters (the plot doesn't matter - it was as dull as a bowl of oatmeal), not a single one of whom is admirable or even slightly likeable. It's not just that they're flawed, because who wants to read a book about perfect, adorable people who always do and say perfect, adorable things? (If that's the sort of novel you like to read, I'd like to point you toward Jan Karon's gooey Mitford series.) No, this novel doesn't have one single sympathetic character: You pretty much hate them all from first to last. The only way to distinguish among them is that some are worse than others. It's as if Rowling said, "I want to write an adult novel with adult themes, so how's about I throw in some pedophilia? AND some mental illness? AND a rapist? AND a sadistic, revolting teenager or two? AND some adultery? AND a crack whore? AND a self-mutilator? AND an abusive husband/father? AND wives who are hatefully contemptuous of their husbands? AND some husbands who act more like children than men? AND about a thousand f-bombs? AND some ugly sex? AND...AND...AND..."

Do you get my point? This dystopian novel contains barely a shred of kindness, mercy, selflessness, family solidarity or, I don't know, LOVE. Everyone is locked into miserable relationships, everyone is suffering, everyone is mean, everyone is selfish. This was probably the most depressing book I've ever read and if Rowling thought the sad, anti-climactic ending there at the church with the pink coffin and the little, tiny white coffin in any way shone the light of redemption on the previous four hundred and some pages, she was sadly mistaken. This book was horrible. After a while, it went from being disturbing to just being ludicrous; does any novel have a larger cast of characters, none of whom have any depth other than loathsomeness of one kind or another? It's one of those novels that I wouldn't even want to donate to Goodwill - why would I want to inflict this awful story on anyone else?

Oh, for one multi-faceted Severus Snape, with his venomous tongue and his doe Patronus! Oh, for a many-layered Dumbledore with his upright heart and his murky past! Why do the kids get all the fabulously-drawn characters with their wrongs and their rights, their petty hatreds and their monumental graces, and we adults get landed with a novel full of nothing but Dursleys?

This novel was a major disappointment. My recommendation, if you feel you absolutely must read it, is to borrow it from your public library. Do not spend the money on this one.

Edited to add: My continuing thought on this book is that Joanne Rowling definitely has a voice as a writer, it's just that, with this novel as an example, I don't think her voice is one for adults. Maybe her true niche is writing outstanding young adult fiction - heaven knows the world could use more solid writing in that genre, and there's certainly no shame in writing books that entertain, instruct and enlighten the YA crowd, which is exactly what she did with the Potter series. I am hoping that The Casual Vacancy is just an aberration, a hiccup in her career, because this book doesn't even seem like *her.* JK Rowling is an author who knows how to flawlessly develop a character. She's brilliant at it. She's better than this book, SO much better. The second piece of advice I have to add to this review is that if you haven't read the Harry Potter series, go do it right now and see what this talented woman is truly capable of. Read Harry Potter with your adult sensibilities, not just allowing the plot line engross you, but also to observe the manner in which the imperfect characters grow into grace with their strengths, weaknesses, failures and triumphs. It should be an able antidote if you read The Casual Vacancy.
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Tracked by 13 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 118 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Oct 1, 2012 4:12:51 AM PDT
Pen Ultimate says:
Thank you for a well-written and expressive review. I probably wouldn't have read this book anyway, not being a fan of HP, but now I definitely won't. It sounds as if this book follows a rather depressing trend amongst many middle-class UK writers when writing about 'ordinary' people, which is to do so in what they think is a realistic way, portraying everyone as mean, corrupt, stupid and miserable. The problem is, that simply isn't what life is like in a small English village. Yes, there are undercurrents, of course; but there is also a lot of kindness, fun, willingness to help strangers, and so on. My suspicion is that one of the reasons these writers don't portray those qualities is that they're actually hard to embody. Darkness, violence - yawn - mean-spiritedness is all too easy to write about.

Posted on Oct 1, 2012 8:42:43 AM PDT
L. Hauser says:
I haven't yet read the book, so I don't know yet if I agree with you, but I certainly have read Potter and your review is a tour de force. In the end, a cavalcade of characters that are pure evil is not only uninteresting but also not representative of reality. Your review is magically eloquent.

Posted on Oct 1, 2012 1:05:23 PM PDT
78degreegirl says:
Thanks for the perfect review of a most imperfect book! Your description of Rowling's thought process in choosing characters ("AND,...AND,... AND...") was spot on and cracked me up!

Posted on Oct 1, 2012 6:12:46 PM PDT
A. Nicholson says:
Ditto to what the other commenters said!
Excellent review.

Posted on Oct 2, 2012 12:57:23 PM PDT
I could not have written a better review myself. This is EXACTLY how I felt. I hated this book... couldn't even finish it.

Posted on Oct 4, 2012 1:19:25 AM PDT
Her Dotness says:
Absolutely **brilliant** review! This one should be the "most helpful critical" one by far.

If Rowling aspired to write grim realism akin to Steinbeck's, she missed that mark by the distance between Great Britain and the U.S. in more ways than mere miles.

Posted on Oct 4, 2012 6:30:33 AM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Oct 4, 2012 6:30:52 AM PDT]

Posted on Oct 4, 2012 2:43:11 PM PDT
Mitz888 says:
I agree with your assessment wholeheartedly! Rowling is a talented writer, but this work was a disappointment.

I admit I haven't made it through the whole book. I end up putting it down and looking for something uplifting to read before I fall off to sleep because after dreaming about these horrible characters the first couple of nights ... I had to drift off with some happier text!

It reads like a Rated R British soap opera without a likeable character in the bunch.

Posted on Oct 4, 2012 6:40:47 PM PDT
Yes, you have hit the nail on the head with your review. I kept wanting to just stop reading, but like watching a train wreck I couldn't look away - I just had to know if there would be anything redeeming at the end. A big NO for my efforts, sadly. I loved your allusion to JKR's thought process on throwing in adultery, pedophiles, drug user, teen sex, etc. I felt the same way, like she was bending over backward to make sure it didn't come across as a YA book this time! And while any small town might have some of these characters, perhaps all of them, surely there would be some kindly, loving helpful people as well, who happen to have good marriages and responsible teenagers!

very glad I didn't spend money on this - read it through the library.

Posted on Oct 5, 2012 7:40:27 AM PDT
"I only persevered because my mama taught me not to be a quitter."

I loved that :)

Wonderful review, btw.
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