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English department

The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

Cruelly and Dangerously Honest

“The difficult thing, the glorious thing, was to be who you really were, even if that person was person cruel or dangerous, particularly if cruel and dangerous.”

This is the motivation of one of the characters from J.K. Rowling’s new book, The Casual Vacancy (published September 27, 2012). Is this good advice? I intend to find out in the best way possible, by being as gloriously cruel as I naturally am. Be forewarned J.K. Rowling presents fouled mouth, hateful, and stupid characters; she doesn’t apologize and neither will I.

The plot, if you can call it that, of The Casual Vacancy is about the death of Barry Fairbrother, council member, coach, husband, and beloved member of the community. Of course that’s not the whole plot. Barry’s death just sets off a civil war between adults, teenagers, neighbors, coworkers, and every other person presented in the novel. What really makes this plot is the characters and how they change—not get better, just change. If you’re like me you’ll be wishing hellfire raining down on Pagford, and they’ve wished for worse in on each other. Now in the book’s defense, this was not written for me. I want to care about characters, or at least some of them, and the few characters I wanted to survive didn’t, so I was left a little jaded.

As for how it was actually written, I have to say it was an amazing piece of writing. But, and I’m going to try to say this as nicely as possible and still do “(t)he difficult thing, the glorious thing...” and tell you Rowling is one of the most articulate writers I have ever seen but there comes a point when I can only handle so many full pages of prose. There is dialogue, I’m not saying there isn’t beautifully crafted dialogue, but some of the pages were so daunting I would get lost in the middle of a sentence. Actually, Rowling probably made the best decision by trying to distract her readers from how awful her characters are. I say “awful” in the sense that they are awful people because I was very convinced that these were real people, and some of them I was convinced needed a baseball bat to the back of the head. I had to read the book “…electrified, (my) face hidden…” so as to keep my grimace from the world (that quoted bit was originally in reference to schoolchildren fondling the first girl to “develop” in their class). With all large amounts of inner monologue in this story, you’ll probably feel the realism each and every person—even if you won’t share my views on what should happen to them.

In all seriousness, I believe this book would not have made the top-sellers’ list if not for the author. If you’re only considering this book because of Harry Potter, then don’t even bother to read the dustcover. The only ghosts you’ll see are the ones made from a hacked email account, and the only fairies are those mentioned off-handedly in local legend, which none of the characters actually care about. What’s really magical about this book is the writing.

I still may regret having helped contribute to the sales, and sincerely hope that the money they got from me goes to taxes, but as someone who can appreciate craft, I thought this was a great book for appreciation of an art from. If you think I’ve exaggerated anything then feel free to buy The Casual Vacany. Hell, even you just want to walk away from a book disappointed in human nature, then you can barrow a copy from a library or friend, or enemy as the case may be.