The Casual Vacancy is a hard book to review, hard because while I was bored for about 80% of it, the story emotionally and politically impacted me more than anything I have read in a long time. The Casual Vacancy tells the story of a small provincial UK village that has an ongoing class battle between the typical country village Pagford and a tacked on much despised council estate full of socially undesirable individuals. When a man on the Parish Council dies unexpectedly, his seat is up for grabs, and the book follows several characters’ fight for the seat which will decide the fate of the town.
The Casual Vacancy is a novel that feels very current because it tackles a lot of ongoing uncomfortable topics of debate in the UK, such as the benefits system, the growing divide between rich and poor, the shortcomings of social services and our healthcare system, especially when it comes to mental health. It’s not easy reading and is uncomfortable at the best of times. There are also some trigger warning topics. The picture it paints of village life is not a pretty one, people are selfish, close minded and bicker over the most inconsequential things. Yet for someone like me who lives in, and is surrounded by a large number of traditional villages, it is also uncomfortably familiar and I recognised many of the caricatures. Rowling is one clever lady. By the end of the novel she shows that the villagers are just as bad as, if not worse than those on the council estate because they are ignorant and turn their backs on those who need help in order to preserve their previous quintessential village. In other words, human nature sucks and we’re all doomed.
Yeah. It’s a cheery tale.
The problem with this novel for me is that it’s one you appreciate more in hindsight. The characters are completely unlikeable, and while I usually love unlikeable characters these were unlikable in a boring way. The plot, despite Rowling’s brilliant writing and satire abilities, is painfully drawn out and long-winded (I mean, 8 pages describing people entering a church? Sheesh!). While you’re reading it seems as if nothing happens until the last 20% of the novel. I also found it oddly difficult to get used to Rowling writing swear words because WHAT WOULD HARRY SAY?
I was all set to rate this novel 2 stars, but in true Rowling style, it all comes together in the end in the last few chapters to give the rest of the novel more meaning. The end of this book winded me. I felt intensely angry to the point of crying and I couldn’t stop thinking about it for weeks.
To me, The Casual Vacancy is a depressing novel with a strong political agenda. It’s aim is to send a message, and it achieves it loud and clear. I loved its portrayal of social issues and mental health – particularly OCD, but I would only recommend it to people who are in the mood to feel temporarily depressed, and those who are interested in political issues!
Writing Style: 5/5 // Originality: 3/5 // Entertainment: 4/5 // Character Development: 3/5
Would I recommend this book? Yes.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
It’s bad to be glad you’ve finished a book, right?
That’s how I felt with Go Set A Watchman. I’d like to start off by saying I was sad I didn’t love this book because I was so excited when it landed with a thump through my letterbox. However, my main problem with it was something I knew going in – it’s a ghost of a book. One that was rejected by publishers decades ago and was later reworked into something better which became To Kill a Mockingbird. When the manuscript was rediscovered it apparently received very little editing before being brought into the world.
You can tell.
So is it unfair for me to criticise a book for a fault I knew it would have before I even started it? Probably. Does that in any way change how I feel about it? Not really. I guess it really depends on whether you feel the context of a novel should be taken into consideration in a rating, or if a book should stand in its own right. I eventually after much thought, decided on the latter.
Like I said, Go Set A Watchman is a ghost of a book. All the ideas are there, and they’re good ideas, but they’re not fully formed to the point of being interesting and their purpose is muddled. The first problem I had was that nothing happens, there is no plot to this book. There are no memorable events or actions, it is mostly Scout’s inner monologue and slow realisations that the Southern town she left and has now returned to is not what she thought it was as a young child; it is much more unsavoury.
I was pleased to discover that Scout’s voice hadn’t changed even with age and she was still as rebellious and headstrong as ever, a fact that is only further reinforced by her rocky relationship with a new character, Henry, who tries to tame her. Her struggle with her self-identity was one of the most endearing aspects of the novel and was one I could relate to.
However, it’s the destruction of Scout’s idolization of her father which is at the heart of this novel (brief spoilers ahead if you haven’t seen the controversy around this novel). The discovery that the famous Atticus Finch, a pillar of all that represents fairness and justice was a racist was something I also knew about going into this novel, and it didn’t put me off as much as some other people. After all, things are barely ever black and white (pardon the pun). But, it did still break my heart a little, and while it did give me further insight into Atticus’s motivations, I feel like it lacked impact, and could have been tackled in a much better way. However, Mockingbird fans will be happy to know that the good thing about Watchman being a draft is you can decide which Atticus you want to believe in. Was Atticus always racist? Or was the Atticus from Mockingbird the true intended Atticus? You decide!
I expected Go Set a Watchman to be rough around the edges, and it’s highly likely I’m being a little harsh with this rating, but honestly, I don’t think this book should have been published. For me, it didn’t add anything to what we already knew about the story and if anything, taints the original. I wouldn’t really recommend this book, except to those who are budding writers and are interested in the long process of writing and editing that goes into making a book great. If you’re still unsure if you want to read Watchman, I’d recommend Charl’s review because it’s far more detailed than mine, and sums up a lot of my own thoughts better than I probably could!
Writing Style: 2/5 // Originality: 3/5 // Entertainment: 1/5 // Character Development: 2/5
Would I recommend this book? No.