Sorry, Queen Rowling.

The Casual Vacancy Launch

As I’m assuming much of the novel-reading world knows, J.K. Rowling recently released her first book outside of the Harry Potter empire. The Casual Vacancy, specifically aimed at an adult audience, is about the small town politics of Pagford, England and is, to the great dismay but not surprise of all her fans, totally void of wizardry. From a woman of humble beginnings but fabulous, deserved success, we are bequeathed with what is essentially a very straight-forward book about the life and times of the English working class, the nastiest of corners included…

Although I consider myself an avid and loyal fan of the Harry Potter books and do, on the odd occasion, hope to find my mailbox stuffed with Hogwarts letters, I did not await the release of Rowling’s new work with the kind of fervour I did the final Harry Potter instalment. I braced myself for what I knew would invariably be something vastly different to the story of magic that has captured and held us all for the last fifteen years. I did not get my hopes up.

I was however, incidentally browsing through a Dymocks Bookstore in Melbourne (on a wee little holiday!) on the day of The Casual Vacancy‘s release and, having just finished reading the novel I had taken with me, I decided to deposit a little more gold into J.K.’s Gringotts vault. I bought the whopping great boulder of a book and lugged it around in my handbag for the return trip home (involving taxi, plane and bus…plenty of reading time.)

Although I had been incessantly reminding myself that this was not Harry Potter, I did expect to be entertained and interested by she who has become known as the greatest living author. I began its first page with a melange of trepidation and excitement but found myself, a three hour flight and five chapters later, quite under-whelmed. To put it bluntly, I knew at the sixty page mark that I would not at all be impressed by The Casual Vacancy. 

My very honest thoughts:

The entire spectrum of swear words and adult themes (sexuality, domestic violence, drug use and adolescent disobedience) had been either directly included or at least alluded to before I had even read my way through the first quarter. Now, I’m nineteen and am therefore no stranger to profane language and rule-bending behaviour, but I cannot say I was impressed by The Casual Vacancy‘s flood of irreverence. When it comes to the use of profanities in literary works, I personally find that less is one hundred times more – not because I’m at all bothered by it but because after you read the word ‘fuck’ twenty times, you become immune to its impact. If used only once or twice, it knocks the reader back for a moment with its poignancy and isn’t that the point of using it at all?

From my perspective, Rowling’s overuse of mature language was a blatant attempt to get her foot in the door of adult literature, to shatter her image as ‘the author of Harry Potter’ in favour of a more general ‘best-selling author’ title and to prove that she really can write outside of the children’s fiction genre. However, by using certain literary techniques for the sake of her author’s reputation rather than for the sake of serving the novel’s actual content, I found she missed the mark.

Another aspect of The Casual Vacancy that I found less than impressive was its structure: numerous characters, multiple perspectives, countless sub-plots and too grand an array of themes – all of which happened to be exhaustingly dark. The plot felt scattered and unfocused and, although many books successfully include an abundance of different characters, in this instance, I felt torn between too many perspectives and was therefore unable to ever really get into the book.

To J.K. Rowling’s credit, she did not compromise the filthy truth of lower class English life for the sake of entertainment. Exposing the dirty underbelly of small town life and politics, Rowling painted quite a shocking picture and I applaud her for her bravery and honesty. However, that’s where my praise ends.

Although I wasn’t expecting another Harry Potter, I was thoroughly disappointed by J.K. Rowling’s newest literary venture. The Casual Vacancy, for me, left much to be desired in all literary arenas, inclusive of plot, character, style and scenery. Sorry, Queen Rowling, but I simply cannot recommend your latest read.

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12 thoughts on “Sorry, Queen Rowling.

  1. I’m not a huge fan of swearing, but I think it worked well in this book. I don’t think she was using swear words for their impact, but because that’s how these characters, if they were real people, would speak. I could be wrong, but I think most (if not all) of the swearing was in the dialogue, where it has every business being. The foul language felt very realistic to me, and I don’t think it detracted from the novel’s impact; I don’t think the swearing itself was meant to make a point, but just to represent realistic speech patterns in this English town.

    While reading, I was frustrated by the huge cast of characters — I had to keep a list of all the characters and their relationships to help me keep track — but looking back after finishing the book, I couldn’t identify any characters that were unnecessary, that I would have taken out. I think all of the characters were necessary for portraying the reality of the town and its complex social strata.

    I don’t often like such dark stories about really unpleasant people, and I wouldn’t have read this book if it wasn’t written by J.K. Rowling, but I thought she did a good job. I couldn’t love this book because it’s just not the type of book that I really enjoy reading, but I think it’s a good book that gets across the message Rowling wanted to convey.

    • Thank you so much for your honest feedback; I love conflicting discussions about books! I see where you’re coming from with regard to the profane language being appropriate to the dialogue but I’m of the opinion (and most likely on my own here) that, although the very essence of the point of literature is to convey a very real message through fictional scenarios, naturalism is not necessarily the best way of going about this. Sometimes a little tweaking for the sake of the plot and the story, even if it takes the book a little away from reality, actually helps communicate the message with greater clarity. For example, in film, the plots are very rarely totally plausible but they’re structured in a way that their messages are receptive by the audience.
      I do think you have a point though and I guess each reader will decide for himself what they believe to be the threshold for ‘too much swearing’.
      As always, thanks for reading!

  2. I just started the book and felt bombarded by the swearing and language! I’m not so sure I even want to continue b/c its just cursing and cursing!

    • Thanks for reading! I didn’t feel bombarded necessarily but simply a little bored after the seventieth curse word! With such a plethora of words to choose from…why reuse the same ones over and over?

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  4. I agree that the language was…not my favorite thing about the book. And I agree that relentless repetition dulls the impact of each “fuck” a character comes out with. But part of me things that maybe that was the point? Looking at the characters, at their lives and everything they try to hide–I can’t help but think that all the cursing is not only a very small way to let out the frustration that is undoubtedly building up inside them, but also an illustration of just how little they have actually come to care for their lives in general.

    And I do have to disagree with you that the plot and characters were unfocused and scattered. I definitely thought the same thing in the beginning, but by about halfway through it became clear just how intricately woven the fabric of the town actually was–and how close it was to coming unraveled at the slightest tug. Again, it took until about halfway though for me to see it, and I don’t know if you finished the book or not (you only mentioned getting to page 60 and realizing you would not be impressed), so if you haven’t, you might feel differently by the end. Then again, you might not, in which case we’ll have to agree to disagree.

    I have to say that it really took me a while to truly digest this book, and I only just recently wrote a full review though I finished it weeks ago. I didn’t love it, but I feel strangely compelled to defend it. It was rather darker than I had anticipated (or wanted, really) but something about its hard, gritty honesty just makes me WANT to love it, you know?

    Anyway, I’ve probably rambled on quite enough. But I do think you might be interested to see a discussion I had with a few fellow bloggers over at The Broke and The Bookish about it, and I know we’d love to get your feedback on our thoughts. (Here’s the link: http://brokeandbookish.blogspot.com/2012/11/the-broke-and-bookish-discuss-casual.html)

    Apologies for the absurdly long post, and thanks for the honest review!

    • Firstly, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts so honestly. I so appreciate genuine, truthful feedback and I find nothing more valuable on this blog than discussion with people who have perspectives and opinions that differ from my own.
      I can definitely understand where you are coming from and like another reader, Leah, commented, the profane language probably is actually quite true to what lower class English life sounds like. This fact acknowledged, I still was unable to enjoy it. And not just because of the language (I swear a little like a pirate in actual life) but because I found the whole tone of the book too miserable. But, I can acknowledge that that was Rowling’s intention and doesn’t mean the book was bad but simply that it was not my style.
      I’m kind of glad that there are people out there who enjoyed it even though I found it very difficult to….I love J.K. Rowling and I want her to do well!
      Thank you so much for reading and commenting!

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  6. Pingback: Review: The Casual Vancancy « A Patchwork Life

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