Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Casual Vacancy

I'll be honest - I'm not done with the book. In my defense, The Casual Vacancy is a very large and very heavy book (theme-wise, I mean; it's actually quite light weight-wise, all things considered). However, I feel the need to address all these comments that are going around about how Rowling should have just stuck with Potter.
Now, as I said, I haven't yet finished the book, but even halfway through (hell, even one page in, if you ask me), it's ridiculously obvious that this is nothing to do whatsoever with Potter. I like to think of The Casual Vacancy as Rowling's version of what Daniel Radcliffe did when he took part in Equus: it's a statement, it shocked a lot of people, and many disliked that 'their Harry Potter' was taking his clothes off onstage. But just because some people disliked that Daniel decided to go nude onstage because it went against their views of him as the hero Harry Potter, doesn't mean that the play, or his acting in it for that matter, weren't good; it just means that people were so blinded by their shock at seeing a person they'd come to associate with children do something so scandalously... adult.
The same concept applies to The Casual Vacancy, but with a few extra complications. You see, Vacancy is very clearly an adult novel from the start, and Rowling had been saying so for a while, but it seems as if people didn't actually believe that her 'adult' would entail the normal things you'd find in an adult book: swearing, sexual situations, etc. Why, exactly, Jo Rowling's adult book was expected to be different from other adult books, is still a little unclear to me, as that is what I expect from adult books in general, regardless of the writer, but there you go. To add insult to injury on the wounds of the horrified Potter fans who were no doubt expecting a book perhaps about an adult rather than a teenager, but still a rather tame book, Rowling then throws in a heap - and I do mean a massive heap - of social analysis done with such great skill and precision, it's mind-boggling. But, see, social analysis tends to upset people, because the truth of human nature is far from pretty, and that is what The Casual Vacancy is all about: human nature, and how people react to other people, and the things around them.
There are so many reviews out there that say that Rowling 'tired too hard' to make sure people knew it was an adult book, and that some scenes with swearing and themes such as rape came out 'forced and unnatural'. I know. Shocking in a clearly labelled adult book. Who'd have expected it?  And yet those reviews generally end with the reviewer saying that they are disappointed that Vacancy wasn't more like Potter. I return to my previous point about Radcliffe and Equus, and will quote something my dad told me when I was discussing this with him over the phone the other day: 'I guess it makes sense, in a way, for her to publish it first [before the child's book she had previously mentioned]. She, just like the actors who played her characters in the movies, needs to break the tradition, and step out of the preconceived notion that people have of her as "the one who wrote Harry Potter". Publishing another children's book wouldn't do that half as effectively as an adult book would, and by what you're telling me, she's definitely succeeded in breaking that view that people had of her.' We all know that an actor's greatest nightmare is to be labeled as 'the guy/girl who played X' for the rest of their lives, and I think what people need to realise is that, after 7 books and ten years writing Potter alone, Rowling was faced with exactly the same dilemma.
I do realise that the topics touched in Vacancy can affect some people's delicate views on life and humanity; after all, what kind of monster rejoices in someone's death?
You'd be surprised. You really would.
My advice to anyone trying to decide whether to read Vacancy, is to first ask yourself if you truly know what the book is about, and if you have no expectations of it being in any way similar to Potter. Because if that's what you expect, then it is inevitable that you will be let down. However, if you're just looking for a new great book, brilliantly written, with an astoundingly spot-on review of the human psyche, then I say by all means, go forth and enjoy!

I would also like to make it extremely clear that I grew up with Harry Potter. Harry, Ron and Hermione were my best friends for a while, and I owe a lot of my childhood happiness, as well as a great part of who I am today to those books. However, upon reading that Jo Rowling was going to publish an adult book, I had no illusions that it would be any different from any other adult book out there in regards to language and themes. In fact, I was looking forward to seeing how Rowling would portray those aspects of an adult book, and was pleasantly surprised. I am therefore here just registering my confusion towards my fellow Potter fans who apparently haven't understood Rowling when she adamantly stated that she will not be writing any other books on Hogwarts. Sad as that is, I accepted that fact and moved on. I strongly suggest those people who are outraged by Vacancy to do the same. To quote our favourite headmaster, 'It does not do to live on dreams and forget to live.' A new Potter book is no more than a dream, so just drop it, and enjoy the new masterpiece Jo has given us.

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