Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Book Review: The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling

The Casual Vacancy, AKA the most anticipated novel of the year, certainly achieves a separation from JK Rowling's previous work, but it's far less edgy than it is disappointing:  the woman who helped us believe that anything is possible if you're brave enough, and that love is the most powerful force in the world, proves herself in the course of these 500-odd pages to be every bit as jaded by the state of the world as the rest of us.

The problem isn't the novel itself, which is a witty piece that surely meets the current standard for contemporary adult literature (although it should be noted that it by no means exceeds said standard, with its framework of cliches all too visible).  The problem instead comes from the storyteller herself, the admittedly inflated expectations most of us have of her, and the novel's lack of any truly compelling overarching message.

I will be the first to admit that these problems are thrown into much sharper relief by comparison to the book's predecessor (well, 8 predecessors).  But it's an almost necessary comparison, one I'm sure Ms. Rowling both anticipated and considered as she was crafting this tedious tale of suburban life in the fictional Pagford, England.  Even the darkest, most unsettling moments in her Harry Potter series allowed for a sliver of hope that things could get better, that they just had to.  In Vacancy, Rowling all but slams the door on this kind of optimism, with the novel's dismal conclusion promising that its characters' cycles of pettiness and destruction will continue.  It's realistic, to be sure, but the sympathy and more importantly, the magic, get lost in the shuffle.

Rowling has been adamant during multiple interviews surrounding the book's release that she "needed" to write this story.  I'm just not sure that we, her magic-loving, escape-hungry fans, needed to read it.