A Few Random Thoughts on THE CASUAL VACANCY

I’ve just finished J.K. Rowling’s new, much-discussed novel. The Internet is overflowing with reviews (mostly scathing) from Very Important Writerly Types, so I am offering up an alternative–a list of impressions and scattered thoughts.

1. J.K. Rowling is damn brave. The climax of the novel is one of those Things That Rarely Happen In Books because those things really upset people. But it does happen here. I know of few other authors who have stepped over the line Rowling does in this book’s ending.

2. Most of the reviews went on and on about how everyone in the novel is hateful, and how it’s so depressing. This is not true. They’re all just people–some of them are priggish and truly horrible, but most of them are regular old humans. They’re relatable. They’re realistic. It’s refreshing.

3. If this were what all “small town life” books were like (dark, honest, and stark), I would read them more often. It reminded me a bit of Sinclair Lewis, but less funny and more horrifying. If you’re not into the tiny details, slow pace, and small-minded intrigue of small town life, this will probably drive you crazy.

4. The book would probably be in the running for awards if it weren’t for the name on the front cover. I agree with what Ann Patchett said— the reviews have been more about taking a wildly successful commercial author down a peg, and less about the actual book. How dare a rich children’s author try to write Literary Fiction! Blergh. Ignore the reviewers.

5. It’s a thinly veiled political statement that might irritate those of us who are tired of even a hint of political conversation right now. If this is you, you might save the book for the middle of November. However, if you’re left-leaning and like having that part of your brain stroked, go for it.

6. While it is an “adult” book (lots of sex, drugs, cursing, and crime), the most fascinating characters here are the teenagers. J.K. Rowling just can’t hide it–she’s great at writing kids.

7. The writing isn’t anything breathtaking or experimental, but she also doesn’t write page-long paragraphs or bury her story in bloated prose. This is a plus in my book.

Has anyone else finished it? What are your thoughts?