Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Casual Vacancy, by J.K. Rowling

Okay, so… Wow.  It’s been a long time since I’ve posted. Yikes.  There are some really good reasons for that though, one of which I’m excited to share with everyone.  So, back when I started at my job last year, I suggested that my boss allow me to write an institutional history of the association I work for.  It didn’t go anywhere at the time, but in the lead-up to our big, annual meeting, she decided that she wanted not only a history of our association written, but a history of Canada’s health care system and nursing education.  The original brief for the project was a 20-25 paper, within 2 weeks; my coworker and I completed a 46 page pager, with 2 trips to local libraries, 3 trips to archives out of town, and 1 trip to Canada’s national archive in 3 weeks.  It was a bear of a project that reminded me of my student days…. And while I’m not 100% sure, I’m hoping the results will be available for sale shortly.  Other reasons for the dirth in posts: TV season started up, and TV on DVD release dates…

All of these factors were further complicated by the book I was reading shortly before my life got filled with distractions: The Casual Vacancy, by J.K. Rowling.  This book took up a lot of my time before it was released, and a substantial amount after.  After its release, I was wondering when/if I would commit to buying it – but as it turned out, that was wasted time, since I won a copy off Twitter from @indigo_chapters.  I was so excited and waited for my mail with baited breath, and when the book finally arrived, I dived right into it!  Only to experience a sinking feeling within the first 100 pages….  Let me explain.

So, near as I can tell, The Casual Vacancy follows the trials and tribulations of a small rural village in England.  The impetus for the story is the death of one of the village council members, who was in favour of incorporating slums into the village to provide the people who lived there with better services.  On the other side of that debate were council members who were thisclose to getting rid of the community by foisting it off on a neighboring town.  Into this political mine field lands the need to fill the seat left by the death of a council member.  I think.  Here’s the problem: I only got ¼ of the way through it before giving up.

The plot is fucking boring… other than the inciting incident, nothing really exciting happens.  I found myself several times thinking that the events would benefit strongly from a dose of magic, but none was forth coming.  To further complicate the plot are the 600 characters that Rowling introduces and jumps between – and NONE of them contribute in an interesting manner to the main plot.  Some of these character stories are interesting, but in the pages I read, I couldn’t find anything to draw me in and keep me reading.

When you compound a slow moving plot with too many characters and my crazy-ass schedule for the last month, what happened was that I lost interest.  There is no way I have the least desire to finish the book, and I’m super glad I won a copy rather than paying $40 for it.  But this is just another example of why Rowling is the smartest author in the world – though this book sucked, I’m still going to buy her next one.  She’s got so much juice following her from HP, that I firmly believe there’s an amazing author in there somewhere, and this book suffered from a publisher who didn’t want to alienate the golden goose.  I’m hoping on her next try, she undertakes some more judicious editing.

So, final verdict?  Borrow a copy from a library/friend, but don’t buy it.  You should definitely explore this book (and hopefully you’ll like it!) if for no other reason that it’s a major piece of our literary tradition now.  Whether you like the book or not, Rowling’s first foray into literature after the Harry Potter juggernaut is going to be talked about and considered for a long time to come.    

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