Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Casual Vacancy (J.K. Rowling)

I am a big fan of Harry Potter. I credit J.K. Rowling with cementing my love of reading--I'm not going to say that she created it, because many books were read to me a lot growing up; the love was already there, but Harry Potter made reading more exciting than it ever had been. Of course, when I heard that JKR was going to come out with a new book, I knew that I would read it, no matter what the subject matter. How could I not?

I promised myself before starting, however, that I wouldn't be blinded by my love of Harry Potter. There are two ways to be blinded: the first, that anything Rowling produces is magical, and the second, that nothing can ever rival Harry Potter. Unfortunately, it seems that a lot of the people out there were blinded in the second way, disappointed that the book wasn't as good. This gets into one of my biggest annoyances: the use of comparison as a rating.

I saw many reviews that criticized the book only because it wasn't a new Harry Potter, barely mentioning (if at all) anything about the quality of the novel. This reminds me a lot of when the Pixar movie Brave came out this summer: most of the negative reviews said things about how the film would have been good if it weren't a Pixar film. That burned me up: I have no problem with someone looking at Brave and saying "that's not as good as other Pixar films", but to use that as the only reason the movie wasn't good is ridiculous. The same principle applies here. I agree that The Casual Vacancy wasn't as good as any of the seven Harry Potters. Does that mean it's a bad book? Certainly not.

The plot centers on the small English town of Pagford in the wake of a councilman's death. Barry Fairbrother, the aforementioned man, leaves a vacant seat on the town's parish council, and this is a particularly politically-charged moment. There's some big drama (rather, big drama for a small town) about an unsightly neighborhood and the drug rehabilitation clinic it houses--some of the people in Pagford want to cede the seedy area to a neighboring town and close down the clinic, while others believe it's important to give the less fortunate a chance.