Thoughts on The Casual Vacancy

June 13, 2013 at 3:04 pm Leave a comment

I’ve wanted to read The Casual Vacancy since it came out a while ago, but I also wanted to wait until I could borrow it from the library and not be hold #37. Mission accomplished. I walked into my local library, and there it was, just sitting on the shelf among all the rest.

The description of the book interested me, but, yes, I will admit that I probably wouldn’t have read it if it hadn’t been written by J. K. Rowling. I did not, however, go into it thinking that it would be comparable to the Harry Potter books in any way. The only thing I expected was that it would have some characteristics of Rowling’s writing style. For the rest, I was curious to see what else she could do.

The first chapter quickly robbed me of any impression that the book might be light hearted or have a touch of humor. That was good because it helped me to adjust very quickly. This was a serious book. Alright.

Halfway through, my mom was curious to know what I thought of it. I may have mentioned that she works at the library, and she had heard that it wasn’t very good. Well, I had expected that the book might be getting some negative publicity simply because it was not what people were expecting. It wasn’t Harry Potter. It wasn’t close to Harry Potter. And, when I reached the end, I would probably decide that it wasn’t as good as Harry Potter for the simple reason that the bar had been set so incredibly high. It’s a book charged with the crime of not meeting people’s expectations.

At the time, I gave my mom a noncommital response, something like, “I don’t know, it’s ok.” As I said, I was halfway through, unwilling to commit to an opinion until I reached the end. All that could really be said was that I was still reading it, and fairly quickly. I was going to finish it.

A nice long book and a comfy chair on the back patio. What more could you want?

A nice long book and a comfy chair on the back patio. What more could you want?

I might have mentioned that, structurally, it reminded me of a modern day Middlemarch, but my mom has no idea what Middlemarch is. At that point, the only other thing I’d noticed was that Rowling skillfully handles a very large cast of characters in this book (from an omniscient viewpoint, no less), and this is something that has always impressed me about her writing. Just think about it, in Harry Potter, we had the main three, their classmates, all the teachers, and ghosts and paintings and magical creatures… The list goes on and on, and so many of the characters just popped right off the page. As a writer, I can tell you that it is very difficult to keep track of so many characters at once and make them all interesting and believable and unique.

So at halfway through, I knew I didn’t want to give up on it, and I finished in three days. Not bad for 500 pages. At that time, I had the day off of work and nothing else I had to do. It was just after 2:30 when I closed the book and went back inside. And then, for a few minutes, I just stood in the living room doorway, completely still. The ending had made an impact on me. And then, I found myself considering the book as a whole. Although I did move on to doing other things, the book was on my mind off and on for the rest of the day.

What did I think about it? I was asking myself that very question. All that time thinking about it, but no hard and fast opinions presented themselves. Instead, I was filled with questions, pondering the answers. Because these questions weren’t caused by confusion over what had happened in the book, they were questions about real life that the book had sparked me to ask. Questions like “is this what the book meant to say, and, if so, is that true?” and “what can be done to avoid this problem in the real world?” So many questions. Questions about what should have happened, questions about the characters, questions about human nature, questions about government and society…

So many questions, and I don’t have the answers yet. Not yet because I have a feeling that these questions are going to come to me again, one by one, and I’m going to keep thinking about them. It feels as though they’re working away somewhere at the back of my mind, like when you skip over a difficult problem on a math test and come back to find that it makes more sense because a little piece of your brain didn’t stop thinking about it.

What did I think of it? Before I fell asleep that night, I considered what I would say about it if I were to write a review of it here on my blog. What would I give it as a rating? And, to my surprise, I realized that I wanted to R. O. L. O. R. F. it. I felt that I had gotten something from this book that added value surpassing any discussion of ratings. How much I had enjoyed it seemed to be an irrelevant question in light of some personal relevations that all of these questions had sparked. And that is truly interesting.

“Now, come on, is it a good book or not?” you’re asking. (If anyone is in fact reading this, which I’m starting to doubt.) Well, you can go decide for yourself. Having been written by such a famous author, I’m sure there are tons of reviews out there written by people with a lot more professional credit than I have. I’ve even added links to a bunch of reviews by my fellow bloggers down at the end of this post. Or you could just read it. I got something out of it.

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Entry filed under: Books, Non 1001 Books. Tags: , , , .

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