Review: The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

Image

I’m a little late on this one. I had wanted to buy a copy of this when it originally came out, but when I went to the bookstore it was THIRTY BUCKS and I was like, oh man, I’ll wait. Then I sort of forgot about it, because there’s so many other books to read! The announcement that Rowling had written another book under a pseudonym reminded me that I really needed to get around to reading The Casual Vacancy, as it has been out for almost a year. I still had to put it on hold and wait for it at my local library, and even then I could only take it out as an express loan, so I guess there are a lot of people still reading this one.

Let’s just say…I’m not bothered that it took me so long to read it. This was very much an “okay” read for me. In a lot of ways it’s hard for me to review, because it’s so difficult for me to remove my actual feelings about the novel from my warm, nostalgic feelings towards J.K. Rowling as a writer. There is danger of me being too harsh, because nothing really can live up to the magic of Harry Potter, especially a novel as decidedly gritty as this one; then there is the danger that I’m being too nice, that if this was any other writer, I would probably be a little less forgiving, or more likely I wouldn’t have read a book like this in the first place. Let’s just acknowledge that those biases are there and move on.

I found The Casual Vacancy, like Harry Potter, to be very readable and gripping. It’s 500 pages but it wasn’t a chore to read it in the 10 days allotted to me by the library. I was giddy at first because I really was enjoying it a lot for the first hundred pages or so. I liked the grittiness, the adult language, etc. Some may be bothered by it, but because I am used to adult themes in fiction, I liked it. Sometimes it may have seemed a little bit forced, but I don’t feel that way just because it’s J.K. Rowling. I find that a lot of “edgy” fiction dealing with sex and drugs and etc often feels a little bit try-hard to me. It’s hard to find a natural balance, to write a story with those elements and come off sincere, not like you’re trying to shock or exploit. It wasn’t terrible in The Casual Vacancy, but sometimes its there.

I was poised to give this one four out of five stars, because I really did enjoy reading it, but there are two major elements that fell short for me.

1) The characters — there were too many! I don’t mind unlikable characters, or even morally questionable ones. My problem is that I didn’t know who I was supposed to root for in this large ensemble. I got an idea by the end, but by then I was already frustrated. This is a very large cast of characters, as its a story about a whole town, but I really wished that there was more secure footing for the reader, and more chances to connect with the characters. Instead I just felt like a voyeur of them all which I think was purposeful, but I didn’t always enjoy that experience. The hero of the story seems to be the man who dies at the very beginning, which is an interesting element, but also a frustrating one.

2) The ending felt wrong to me on some levels. I won’t spoil it, but it’s not an ending that leaves things open ended so much as it left a bad taste in my mouth. I’m not one to gripe about endings usually, but the last hundred pages of this rubbed me the wrong way–at the same time, I can’t think of another way this could have ended.

It seems to me The Casual Vacancy, while an entertaining read, suffers from being a little bit jumbled. I’m excited to read The Cuckoo’s Calling and whatever else J.K. Rowling has up her sleeve, though.

Final verdict: 3/5 stars

****

Goodreads challenge: 43/70
Currently Reading: The Enchantress Returns by Chris Colfer

Haul(s) and ereaders

Apologies for the erratic posts. I’ve been busy having summer fun and looking for a job. And sleeping–a lot. Also, reading a lot! And, what brings us here: I’ve been buying a lot of books. For me, anyway. I already have a lot of books so I try not to buy very many books unless I absolutely need to. The thing about summertime, though, is that there are so many great opportunities to buy books!

First–I went to the Friends of the C.H. Booth Library book sale in Newtown, CT, in July, where I got these books:

Image

Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison [If you remember from my last post, I bought Beloved at my local library’s book sale. I can’t decide which one to read first, since I’ve  never read any Morrison before.]

The End of Alice by A.M. Holmes

Cherry by Mary Karr

Black Boy by Richard Wright

Hurry Down Sunshine by Michael Greenberg [This one was not from this particular book sale, but was given to me by my brother, who had to read it for a class and was trying to get rid of it. I got it around the same time as the others so I included it in the same photo lol]

I go to a lot of library book sales during the summer time, and the C.H. Booth book sale is the one I look forward to the most each year (this is truly a small haul compared to years past). It’s a huge sale. If you live nearby I definitely recommend checking it out next July.

Last week I took a trip to the Book Barn in Niantic, CT with my friend Andy. It was my first time going there, and it was awesome! It had almost every book you could possibly want. I go to book sales because I can’t afford buying books in book stores, but I love the physical experience of browsing for new books. I have deep appreciation for used book stores like the Book Barn that are around all year long and provide a book store experience for cheap. There’s also a myriad of cats that live on the premises. I can’t wait to go back! Here’s what I got this time:

002

Candy by Mian Mian

The Hours by Michael Cunningham

Native Son by Richard Wright

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

Selected Stories by Alice Munro

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde [the only book in this haul I have already read–I felt like I should have a copy since it’s one of my favorites!]

Ulysses by James Joyce [I am terrified to read this!]

The Missing Ink: The Lost Art of Handwriting by Phillip Hensher

Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origin of Modern Sexuality by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá

The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera

I bought the Kundera book mostly because the message written on the title page made me laugh:

006

Goddamnit, Peter.

Finally, I bought one new book! The Land of Stories: The Enchantress Returns by Chris Colfer (the sequel to The Wishing Spell, which came out last summer), because I’m a Glee/Chris Colfer fangirl, whatever, sometimes you just want to read fairy tale fanfiction written by a cute guy with really great hair, okay?

011

So that’s all for the hauls–I know this might be small for some people, and if you asked me a few years ago, I would have agreed. But when you only have one bookshelf and no place to put new books, you’d understand how I like to keep my hauls to a manageable size, only including books I know I really want to own. I’m really excited to read some of these! I’ll try to review as many as possible, but as you can tell, sometimes I’m lazy about reviewing the books I read.

I have been reading quite a bit lately, though. Right now I’m doing research about ereaders. Yep, I’m finally giving in. I know I’ll always prefer reading actual pages, but I think it’s impossible to ignore how convenient ereaders are. I’ll probably wait until Christmas and ask for one, but I want to make sure to get a good one. Right now I’m thinking either a Kindle Fire or something like a tablet that can be used as an ereader, like an iPad mini. Although it seems like it’d be rife with distractions, an ereader/tablet I can easily read a book and browse the internet on would be ideal, so I can use it to read articles and blogs online (reading long articles on the computer can be uncomfortable for me, so I avoid them, unfortunately). So, those of you with ereaders–what do you have/prefer? Tell me all about your experience in the world of ereading in the comments!

*****

Goodreads challenge: 42/70
Currently Reading: The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling