Highly readable; dull; funnier than expected – from the Telegraph to the New York Times, reviewers of JK Rowling's first post-Potter literary outing, The Casual Vacancy, are far from reaching a consensus
"No doubt there will be reviewers who have already decided to pour vitriol upon [The Casual Vacancy] no matter its merits," said Jonathan Ruppin, of Foyles, yesterday, and it appears he might have had a point. Reviews have been pouring in for JK Rowling's first adult novel this morning, and they are nothing if not mixed.
"A solid, traditional and determinedly unadventurous English novel,"wrote Theo Tait for the Guardian, while the famously vituperative Michiko Kakutani, reviewing The Casual Vacancy for the New York Times, was unimpressed. "It's as though writing about the real world inhibited Ms Rowling's miraculously inventive imagination, and in depriving her of the tension between the mundane and the marvellous constrained her ability to create a two-, never mind three-dimensional tale," she wrote.
"The real-life world she has limned in these pages is so wilfully banal, so depressingly cliched that The Casual Vacancy is not only disappointing – it's dull. The novel … reads like an odd mashup of a dark soap opera like Peyton Place with one of those very British Barbara Pym novels, depicting small-town, circumscribed lives."
Jan Moir in the Daily Mail, meanwhile, took umbrage at what she saw as Rowling's attack on the middle classes. "More than 500 pages of relentless socialist manifesto masquerading as literature crammed down your throat," found Moir. She went on to call Rowling "the kind of blinkered, left-leaning demagogue quick to lambast what she perceives to be risible middle-class values, while failing to see that her own lush thickets of dearly held emotions and prejudices are riddled with the same narrow-mindedness she is so quick to detect in others".
Author Christopher Brookmyre, in the Telegraph, was far more positive, giving The Casual Vacancy four out of five stars, saying that it "reveals in unflinching detail the fractures beneath the surface of modern Britain".
"One marvels at the skill with which Rowling weaves such vivid characters in and out of each other's lives, rendering them so complex and viscerally believable that one finds oneself caring for the worst of them. However, upon hearing the cries of so many souls in pain, the more sensitive reader might begin to crave a leavening of hope, or to fear that Rowling's own cry is one of despair," writes Brookmyre. "That leavening is there, but the novel's lesson is that it won't simply be gifted to us. Quite unmistakably Barry Fairbrother [the parish councillor who dies at the start of the novel] represents liberal aspirations towards a fairer and more integrated society, whereby we don't lecture the disadvantaged about pulling themselves up by their bootstraps: instead we have to wade in to help in ways that may be messy, unsatisfying and barely effective, but without which we abandon hope. Ultimately, The Casual Vacancy is a book that understands there are no magic wands."
The Scotsman was also positive: "It is far grittier, bleaker (and, occasionally, funnier) than I had expected, and – the acid test – I suspect it would do well even if its author's name weren't JK Rowling." The Mirror gave The Casual Vacancy five stars, and the Express found that "some readers will be shocked at Rowling's departure from wizardry and magic but The Casual Vacancy is a highly readable morality tale for our times".
A second Telegraph review, from Allison Pearson, awarded three stars and found the novel "sometimes funny, often startlingly well observed, and full of cruelty and despair", and "as for the ending, dear God, it is so howlingly bleak that it makes Thomas Hardy look like PG Wodehouse".
"Invariably, the author is best when she is back on home ground, dealing with the teenage characters, their inchoate yearnings and lonely friendships," says Pearson. "The book is at its weakest when it is most angrily political, satirising what JK's friend, Gordon Brown, calls 'bigots'. And the novel pretty much explodes towards the end, losing shape in its fury at the dirty, unfair England that we Muggles have made for ourselves. It's like The Archers on amyl nitrate."
In the Evening Standard, David Sexton said that "what the book has in common with Harry Potter is the ability to marshall an extraordinary number of characters into a coherent narrative, and a prose style so clunkily over-descriptive and repetitiously structured that it presents quite a barrier to the reader with any interest in language, until you are able to forget it, like reading a ropey translation, and concentrate on the story instead".
"The problem for Rowling's legions of fans will be that she has forgotten to include any basic likability in her characters here, or any real suspense as to what will happen – or deliberately chosen not to supply it, now she no longer needs to do anything other than what she wants," finds Sexton. "The book is quite punishing to read and the view of human nature it takes is more fundamentally lowering than that of the most cynical French aphorist … Rowling has said pre-emptively: 'There is no part of me that feels like I represented myself as your children's babysitter or their teacher. I'm a writer and I will write what I want to write.' So that's what she has done and it is not nice."Source
:( Any thoughts, ONTD?