Thursday, January 17, 2013

Scarfinger Reviews: The Casual Vacancy

Below is my first attempt at writing a blog longer than a paragraph. It was a resolution I made for myself and I think it came out nice. I most likely wont be doing a lot of these because as a podcaster I find it much easier to say what I feel rather than to slow my brain down enough to type it. If you would like to read or listen to the book fear not because I didn't include story crippling spoilers. I value constructive criticism. Haters be gone.
I remember when my aunt Beverly passed away. The day of the funeral was one of the most memorable days of my life. To me she was just my aunt. She was a cool, fun loving and just all around good person. I spent a lot of time with her on weekends but even with that time spent I didn't know the impact she had on others. Her service was held in a large room of the funeral parlor since she was not a member of a church. Because of the lives she affected the parlor (yep I said parlor) was over flowing with people who wanted to pay their respects to a great woman who affected their lives. I learned that day what an impact one person can have on a community.

I thought about her constantly while listening to The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling. The story is about the death of Barry Fairbrother and the lives he affected in the small town of Pagford. His death leaves a "casual vacancy" of his place in the town's council and, as you learn while the story progresses, in the hearts and minds of the people in Pagford. The main theme is a race to fill Barry's place on the council as a divisive issue important to the town is coming to a vote. What lies beneath is story full of the lives of everyone else and how those lives were affected by the absence of this one man.

I went into the story not expecting anything. The only thing I knew was it was by Rowling and the subject matter was not for children. I left with a complete view of Pagford life from many different perspectives. The point of view of the story shifts from young and old, rich and poor, and everything in between. It seems like a difficult job but she manages to pull it all together into a "Desperate British Housewives on HBO" kind of story that works really well. 

The Good

Characterization - There's a lot of characters here. In the beginning I thought it would be hard to keep it all together, but that ended up not being so. Its obvious she learned a lot from the Harry Potter books. Every character has his/her own lives, personality, wants, needs, triumphs and regrets. If I don't know better I'd swear they are all real people because they are written so well.

Pacing - I've always thought Rowling has incredible timing and pacing for her stories. She has the patience of a master storyteller. She dangles the literary carrot just to move forward and she trusts the reader to know  that when we get the carrot it'll be so sweet.

Setting - Everything about this book from the characters, settings, speech and slang is unapologetically British. For someone like me who isn't well versed in such things it was slightly odd at first but I love how she didn't hold my hand. Not having to explain stuff like "fags" to the stupid fucking American forced me to witness these people in their element which made them more real to me.

Barry - We only get to know a little bit about Barry Fairbrother in the beginning. The rest we learn from the stories and memories of the people who know him. I would not have thought of this as an ideal way to learn about a character but it works well in this instance. It truly is good writing.

Presentation - Because this was and audio book I'd be wrong if I didn't mention the audio presentation. In addition to the stellar writing Tom Hollander did a phenomenal job giving all of the characters their own voices. It was so good by the end if I wasn't paying full attention I could figure out who was speaking because of their voice, speech pattern, etc. It went a long way in establishing the characters as people, making them whole in my minds eye.

The Bad

Exposition - This audiobook is separated into 3 pieces. Each 5-6 hours long. The first 6 hours are almost all exposition and history. It jumps from character so often, it is hard to sort everyone out in the beginning. Once you get it you get it but until you do it is easy to get confused on characters and relationships early on in the book.

Language - This book isn't for children. I feel like there are way too many times when the language goes overboard just for the sake of reinforcing it (especially early in the book). It's like the school teacher that waits until the kids leave and says "fuck" twenty times, just because they left and she can. As much as I think the book is well written those moments remind me that this is fiction and take me out of the moment. Kinda like the Batman voice in The Dark Knight. LOL

Grim - This book starts with Barry's death and ups the grim ante quite a bit at the end. No spoilers but man is it sad. I actually paused the book to have a moment of contemplation.

The Fugly

Umbrella - This book actually makes the song Umbrella a sad one for me. I will never hear that song again without wanting to bow my head at least. Masterful work really because I was rather indifferent about the song before this book.

Sequel - I'm torn on whether I want another book in this series. While I think its good where it left off I wonder what happened on Pagford when we left.
*I found out after writing this that there is a series being made about the book scheduled to come out in 2014*

Kiddie - Call me immature but I kinda giggle a bit when someone talks about smoking a pack of fags. No, really I just did while writing this. Does slang get more diverse than that word?

The Verdict

I'm going to forgo giving this a number. For what its worth I had no expectations and left with an appreciation for a good story. A story about small town politics isn't what I would normally care about but this book won me over. Although I thought it was good I wouldn't suggest this to just anyone though. As stated before this is British small town Desperate Housewives on HBO. If that doesn't interest you its OK to pass on this. If that does interest you or if you just like good storytelling with fully realized characters give it a try and let me know how it worked for you.

No comments:

Post a Comment