Friday, October 05, 2012

The casual vacancy by J. K. Rowling

The casual vacancy
by J. K. Rowling

This contains spoilers. So if you don’t want to be spoiled, then stop reading now.

I really need to stop pre-ordering books. That is perhaps the moral of this story, because I am not sure the book itself has one. But, first, let’s try to deal with the plot such as it is. The back cover blurb makes it sound like the central plot of the book will be about an election to replace a council member who died, that this election will divide the community, rich against poor, old against young, et cetera, et cetera. We find out, eventually, that the major political issue of the campaign is whether or not to keep a poor section of the community within its boundaries. Yes, the election does take place. No, the vote doesn't actually take place. No, we never get closure on what happened to the boundary.

So, instead, what do we have here?  Basically we have 500 pages of characters screaming at each other and occasionally having sex, but mostly screaming.  I have no idea who I am supposed to sympathize with. I have read in some places that this book is considered left wing propaganda.  If it is, it fails miserably. Presumably the left wing cause it trumpets is the poor, but it is not as if their portrayal is particularly positive either, dismissed as trapped junkies forced into crime and prostitution, unable even with government programs to escape the circle of dependency.The only character that did actually escape is the dead member of council who we never actually meet.

The rich or, at least, middle class townspeople come off just as badly, petty, small minded, vindictive, manipulative. What I found particularly aggravating was the professionals in the book, the teachers, social workers, doctors appeared to have absolutely no idea what they were doing. Even basic things like confidentiality agreements were ignored when it suited the plot, but suddenly remembered when it was necessary. Perhaps that is the point, that all people are evil and anyone in authority is incompetent. If so, I would have preferred to save my time and my money.

When the book was reaching its climax I paused for a moment to text a friend to tell them that I imagined the author sitting in front of her computer screaming at the top of her lungs, “Adult? I will show you adult.” And she did, if you consider adult to be the following: profanity, sex, teenage sex, drug use, smoking, petty crimes, rape, cutting, possible pedophila and, finally, suicide. 

The book also contains an impressive amount of use of the F-word often in multiple times in the same sentence.  It is like she watched Pulp Fiction one too many times or really had problems making word count.
And the book does drag horribly. She repeats characterization over and over again.  Part of this is necessary because she introduces such a huge cast of characters. Apparently it is mentioned in the Kindle edition that there are over 80.  If she had bothered to focus in on two or three or maybe four, we could get to know them, but we are being shuttled around constantly. Just when we got used to some one we are off to somebody else.

From a technical standpoint the writing itself is occasionally bad, first writing course bad. Basic things like avoid adverbs in speech tags are ignored, is rampant. There is one dinner party scene where I think we are changing point of view every few lines of dialog. There is a reason why you don’t do this. It is because it confuses the reader. Eventually they have no idea whose head you are in. I became lost at least three times.

As was typical in her other books, she likes her figures of speech carpet bombing the text like the RAF on a night raid over Germany, the explosions ripping into the pages.  See how jarring that was, how superfluous? Think of 500 pages of that.  She also gladly leaves the boring parts in. We get a discourse on fake versus real breasts in pornography. As for the idea that a council website would have a forum, but at the same time have it set up by someone totally incompetent who only passed one class is just too ridiculous to contemplate. When a major plot device in your book is that anyone can hack into this forum when I know free forum software that presumably was reasonably secure existed 15 years ago, it makes the author who named drops Facebook and other brand names seem either lazy or out of touch.

I am not sure if I am getting my point across. I was very disappointed with this book. If it had been cut down by at least a third, possibly a half and had only focused on a handful of characters, I could maybe see this working. How a single event can transform the lives of all who experience it. It is an interesting idea, but in the execution we have to be able to cheer for someone, a hero or even an anti hero. I hope this was her big message book and she got it out of her system and that she will go back to writing fun stuff. But I will wait for the reviews to find out. I am not preordering her stuff anymore.

Not recommended!