28 September, 2012

The Casual Vacancy

Image from: wikipedia
Are you intending to read J.K Rowling's new book, The Casual Vacancy

This is J.K.'s first novel for adults following the phenomenon of the Harry Potter series. Referred to by The Guardian journalist Theo Tait as 'Mugglemarch', it is meant to be a 21st-century version of great 19th-century novels. I thought this would mean it would have a cosy crime feel. But apparently it's a bit more gritty than cosy, covering topics such as death, rape, racism and paedophilia in a small community in south-west England

The BBC ran an interesting article yesterday, looking at various reviews of The Casual Vacancy in the newspapers. My favourite comment was from The Daily Telegraph's Allison Pearson who described the novel as "The Archers on amyl nitrate". That alone makes me want to read it!

There is an interview with J.K. Rowling on iplayer at the moment. I'm always struck by how eloquent she is. She seems like a really nice person. I won't regurgitate the interview here but it made me smile to hear how nearly every cafe in Edinburgh claims to be the place where she wrote the first Harry Potter!

I was also struck by how her life has changed through her writing. And I wondered whether I'd want to be as famous as that. It sounds a bit odd - who wouldn't want their books to be bestsellers all over the world, bringing enjoyment to millions of people and fetching an income which meant you could write whatever you wanted to with no pressure for the rest of your life? But I'm not sure.

Would that success be worth people taking photographs of your children without your permission? Is it worth not being able to write in your favourite cafe anymore, or to have hundreds of people sending you letters asking for money complete with photographs of their dying relatives? How would it feel to know that there was a very high chance that your biggest writing success was behind you? [Actually, I watched an amazing talk on nurturing creativity, by the writer Elizabeth Gilbert who wrote Eat, Pray, Love and was coming to terms with the fact she'd probably never write such a popular book again. I REALLY reccommend it to anybody at all interested in anything creative.]

There are very few writers I would recognise if I passed in the street -  Bill Bryson, Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Benjamin Zephaniah. Not many. And that's part of the beauty of writing. You can be famous without being recognisable. (If, of course, you ever get to being famous at all!) I would love to write a bestseller, or seven, but I'm not sure I'd like to have the kind of success J.K. Rowling has. I would feel awkward writing anything where reviewers were forced to read my book in a locked office and sign a secrecy document before the publication date. Would you?

The Casual Vacancy has been criticised for being too long, having a melodramatic ending and lacking depth of both plot and structure. But it has also been described as stunning, highly readable and outrageously gripping. From the reviews I've seen, the "average" opinion seems to be that it is reasonably good with some very good parts, but feels like it is missing something and/or is a bit too bleak or one-sided. I don't think that will put me off though. What about you? Are you tempted to give it a go?

12 comments:

  1. I'm certainly intrigued, and will probably try and read it at some point. I'm not sure I'll be going straight out to my nearest bookshop to find a copy though. (However, I did notice that Tesco had a display of them by the door this morning, so I wouldn't have to go far).

    I agree on the level of fame she has acheived. I think it would be amazing to write bestselling books - but not to be the sort of person that everyone recognise as you walk down the street.

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  2. I love JKR, but this doesn't sound like my type of book. Not really my sorta thing. My dad would love it though, I reckon.

    Fame is a nasty thing. Wouldn't want it - I can barely cope with having just a handful of people know I exist and want time with me (family and friends). ; D

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  3. I suspect that the freedom to write whatever one fancies can only be achieved at the beginning of the road or once one has achieved significant success (define that as you wish). I think it's great that JKR has written a book that means something to her and, let's face it, she doesn't have to worry whether it will sell or even whether people love it. Critics of either persuasion only generally voice an opinion when they feel strongly about it (or when they're paid to feel strongly about it), so you're unlikely to read many middle-of-the-road opinions. I do plan to read The Casual Vacancy at some point, but there's a list of unread books ahead of it!

    As a journeying writer, I don't expect to be famous or extravagantly successful, but i would like to write books that readers appreciate and are affected by. Perhaps, if JKR shows us anything, it's that even monumental fame and wealth doesn't have to strip us of kindness.

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  4. I think, like Jenny and Derek, I do want to read it, but it's not top of my list right now.

    I'm interested that you think fame is "nasty" Freya - that's quite a strong word! My mind blows when I think about the fact that we can only experience our own life. I will probably never know what it's like to be so famous people know my face (thankfully), but equally someone like the Duchess of Cambridge will never know what it's like NOT to have grown up to marry royalty and be famous. I can't think about it too much or it terrifies me that I won't ever be able to understand what everything feels like!

    I think I'm with you, Derek. I want my books to be read and for them to mean something to the people who read them. That'll do me!

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  5. I'll read it, but I'm in no rush. I think the problem is that, be it good, average or terrible, too many reviewers are either snobs (Oh, a children's author, how quaint! That Harry Potter was terribly popular with teenagers, you know) or too biased by the hype to remain objective. It's probably a very wise move by her to write something so completely different - a case of tearing off the band-aid in one fell swoop - but the guaranteed sales mean figures are useless in judging whether it's actually popular or not. Time will tell!

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    1. I think she was wise too. I suspect that the language will be a bit strong for my taste, but I think it's good that she both went for something different and went for something she wanted to write - not just doing something for the sake of shaking of HP.

      I'm also pleased to hear that she has a couple of children's books on the way. I'd hate her to feel like she couldn't write for kids now Harry is grown-up!

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  6. I will most definitely read it, but I'll let it simmer for a while first and listen to other people's opinion. JKR has captured the imagination of millions with her wonderful characters and I think writers everywhere have respect for her. Many of us will read her new book out of interest in her ability rather than the story. I'm in that camp.
    I read the first of the 'Fifty Shades' series and slated it in the review on my blog. E.L.James didn't research her subject matter but has by the nature of e-publishing captured a wide audience. She had to rewrite it for the papaerback versions - which tells you something about the e-book doesn't it.
    Yes, I'll read JKR's new one with an open mind - and review it!

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    1. That was the most unforgiveable thing for me about Fifty Shades - bad writing is one thing and is a lot to do with talent, but research is just a matter of taking it seriously and not being lazy.

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  7. I read it! (yes, in Accra!) And I like it, but I wouldn't re-read it. Some of the characters are particularly brilliant and unforgettable, (I finished it this Monday and am still thinking of it), she's really good at showing how nuanced we are as people and the range of problems and relationships you can find in a (rural) community. It is really grim and inconclusive, and maybe a bit angry; I thought the book could perhaps have shorter but then it would probs. be a different book. I think you'd find it interesting. JK R always strikes me as such an individual and this comes through.

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    1. There you go, Ladies and Gents - the verdict from a real person who's read it! Sounds good, dear Butterfly. I think if JKR has a flaw it's in editing down her books to a "good" length. A lot of people said this could've been shorter.

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  8. Interestingly, with all the depravity it portrays it left me homesick for Britain! =/

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    1. And Britain is Abbysick for you, my dear.

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