Dual Review: Rowling and Harper Lee!

Overall Impression: A slow-paced slog about village politics with a killer, heart-wrenching ending.The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

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.

Overall: 3/5

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Overall Impression: A boring book which goes nowhere, and pales in comparison with its characters, themes and emotional impact to its famous counterpart. Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee

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.

Overall: 2/5

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28 thoughts on “Dual Review: Rowling and Harper Lee!

  1. Looks like both books require loads of patience to get thru… I read couple of chapters of casual vacancy more than a year ago but got caught up with some work.. And never felt like going back to finish it..

    • Yepp, that sums it up pretty well! Sometimes if you’re patient the experience can be rewarding, though. 🙂 I found that with The Casual Vacancy. I can definitely understand why you never felt like picking it back up though because it doesn’t have much of an initial hook! I hope if you ever pick it up again you enjoy it more. Good luck!

  2. I feel like I haven’t seen you around the blogisphere for AGES! I’m so glad I came across this post, your thoughts on a casual vacancy are a lot like mine! I haven’t read go set a watchman, I’m not ready to give up on the atticus of my childhood just yet!

    • That’s probably because I haven’t been around for ages! It’s shameful, I know. I’ve actually been on holiday the past week so that was a contributing factor too, but it feels great to post again. 🙂 I’m glad to hear that you had similar feelings. I remember when the novel first came out a lot of people said they didn’t like it, but I never thought I was going to be one of them! Although weirdly it’s one of the most memorable books I’ve read this year.

      I get ya. 🙂

  3. Good reviews here Becks and good to see you’re still blogging!

    I actually finished a non-fiction book about the treatment of trauma, and it made for some dismaying reading when you see how mental health treatment is shunted aside due to the profitability of drug treatments. JK’s book would probably have me clenching my fists in anger at the stuck up villagers.

    Watchman sounds like a let down to be honest, and I don’t really see why a reviewer should go easy on it – if it’s marketed like other books and priced like other books, it should treated like one.

    • Why thank you, Michael, it’s good to be back! I’m definitely still blogging just not as consistently as I would like. 🙂

      Oooh, that sounds interesting, I’ve always had a huge interest in mental health and personality psychology. The profitability of drugs has caused huge problems throughout history for a variety of different medical problems, if you actually look at the facts it’s shameful. It’s a weird and flawed system that often doesn’t have people’s best interests at heart.
      I actually think you would really like The Casual Vacancy, although there would definitely be fist clenching! It tackles a lot of issues I think you’d be interested in. 🙂

      It was a bit. I’m glad that you think my review was justified!

  4. I am in the majority cause I actually liked The Casual Vacancy. I definitely the complaints people have about it but I liked it.

    I’m with you on Go Set A Watchman. That was such a letdown.

    • There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, I wish I could have enjoyed it more! Having said that, it still one of the most memorable novels I’ve read this year and will probably end up being one of my favourites despite the low rating. It’s weird how some books stick with you. 🙂

      Sorry to hear you were disappointed by Watchman too. :/

  5. Yay, nice to see a review again! (No pressure or anything, you know, but I missed them). How’s the driving lessons going? 🙂

    Watchman is next on my TBR…I’ve borrowed a copy from the library rather than buy one straight off; given the bleurgh reviews. I’ll see how it goes. Open mind, open mind…

    Thanks for the recommendation of “The Art of Being Normal”, I’m reading it at the minute and enjoying it.

    Have a good Christmas!

    • Yay! I’m glad you missed them, that gives me a warm fuzzy feeling. 🙂 I’ve been really missing blogging but I’ve just had such a block recently! Driving lessons are going well thank you, I’ve done everything I need to do now I just need to go over a perfect it!

      Ooooh, I will be very, VERY interested to see what you think, and I hope you enjoy it more than I did. 🙂 An open mind is definitely the way to go.

      No problem. I’m happy to hear you’re enjoying it. It’s always a huge plus for a blogger to hear that!

      You too, Tony!

  6. Hey Book Buddy!! I have missed you :). It was interesting to read your reviews on these two books because my opinion was slightly reversed. Although neither book will ever land on my favourites list, I actually did enjoy Watchman. I liked how it made me think and compare and consider so many issues. Of course it will never compare to Mockingbird, but I’m really glad I read it. Now, as for Casual Vacancy, that is hands down the most depressing book I have ever read. Rowling’s writing skills are still top notch, but I barely made it through. Oh well, as I always say, we can’t love them all right? How’s life? Special someone still in the picture? I’m dying to know.

    • Hey book buddy!!!! I have missed you too! Phew, things have been crazy lately to the point where I haven’t even had the time to THINK about blogging. But inspiration suddenly struck and boom, out came this post. 🙂 That is very interesting indeed. I, of course, know from our previous conversations how you felt about The Casual Vacancy and I completely understand and agree with many of your grievances! It was SO depressing and it affected my mood for a good two days. In terms of the overall enjoyment, I wonder if me being British made it slightly more enjoyable, simply because it was so on point with case studies that had been in our news and the village life. What do you think? 🙂
      Watchman did make me think and compare issues, but not as many as I would have liked. I think maybe if I reread it I might appreciate it a little more as I would now know what to expect, but it’s still a bit of a mish mosh of a book!

      Life is great thank you, I’ve actually just come back from a weeks holiday with that special someone. So far so good! 😀 (I might do a post on my travels soon!) How are things for you?

      • Yayyyyy!!!! I’m soooo happy it’s working out. Young love is totally awesome :). Things are great here, although I’m getting a little stressed about Christmas and having lots of people crowded into my little house. However, I’m also excited because Mike and I are heading to Costa Rica for a week in January. We haven’t been on a beach vacation since before we were married 26 years ago, and there are also volcanos and rain forests there!! I just a wee bit excited :).

      • Thank you. 🙂 I’m so happy at the moment and really enjoying myself. Long may it continue! Ahh yes, Christmas is always stressful, especially if you’re the one hosting it and planning all the presents. I’m sure you will rock it though! Cost Rica, ooooooooh. That sounds amazing. 😀 Can you believe I’ve never been on a beach vacation? I need one. It’s on my non-existent bucket list, LOL. I’m sure you guys will have a blast and I can’t wait to hear all about it (and hopefully see some pictures hehe).

  7. Despite the fact that you found Casual Vacancy quite boring in terms of plot, I find myself getting very attracted to that novel! I’m a fan of long descriptions and books that make you think deeply. I feel like I need to read more of them, since I’m reading such fast paced books at the moment!
    As for Go Set A Watchmen, I’ve heard such harsh criticism everywhere so you’re not wrong in yours. I am avoiding this book altogether. I will read To Kill A Mockingbird but that is where I will stop. I don’t think it needed a sequel and I think it’s now wrecked the beauty of the once singular classic.
    Great post!

    • Really? You are one of the first people I have heard say that, but I’m really glad to hear it! I truly wish I could have enjoyed the novel more. I’m also a big fan of long descriptions and deep books normally, but something was lacking with the CV for me. Did you ever see the mini TV series adaption of The Casual Vacancy? I found it interesting and thought it was well portrayed, even though they changed bits and made it overall slightly less depressing. Well worth checking out!
      Yeah, I guess that’s true. I was hoping I wouldn’t be one of those people but alas. 😛 I think that’s a good choice. Sometimes a singular classic should stay singular. Thanks for reading. 🙂

  8. I’ve had The Casual Vacancy on my kindle for ages but I haven’t been particularly enthused at the thought of reading it! Your review confirms my fears 😦 I’ll give it a go at some point but I think I’ll need to be in a specific mood when I pick it up.

    Ahh I totally agree with your thoughts on Watchman! I had a feeling you’d be disappointed by it. Also, thanks for linking to my review, wasn’t expecting that 🙂

    • Oh no way, I thought you might have already read it back when it first came out. I felt exactly the same, I’d owned the CV since the month it came out and only just picked it up this year which was mainly because I saw that a TV mini-series was coming on and I wanted to watch it, LOL. I think you might like this more than I did as I know you like your dark books but yes, you definitely need to be in the right mood!

      No problem! Honestly, when I read your review it was so on point and perfectly written that I couldn’t even think of a comment to write because you had just summed up everything I felt! 🙂

  9. Wonderful reviews, as always, Becky! 😀 I’ve been a little hesitant with trying Rowling’s non-HP books because of the mixed reviews. Plus, I don’t think I’d be used to Rowling using swear words in her writing either, haha. But I think I’ll at least give The Cuckoo’s Calling a go since I hauled it a few months ago. Ah, and I’m so sorry that GSW was a boring disappointment. Quite a few readers have expressed the things you pointed out as well. It’ll be a while before I start that sequel though; I still need to read TKM!

    • Thank you so much, Summer. 😀
      I can completely see where you’re coming from, everyone’s thoughts have been so mixed, including my own! Yes, the swear words thing was VERY weird and I still wasn’t used to it by the end of the book. Wash your mouth out, Rowling, LOL.
      I’m planning to give The Cuckoo’s Calling a go as well, maybe we should do a buddy read in the new year or something. 🙂

      TKM is an amazing book, you’re going to love it I just know it!

  10. I’ve read both of them. While I can’t say I liked the books, I gave Go Set a Watchman more credit because it was just revealing a different side of racism that I’ve seen in America, both then (from what I read in history books) and now

    • Hi Ashley. 🙂 Yes, I agree with you! The one thing I did really appreciate about Watchman was that it shone a light on the other, less obvious side of racism that you don’t often hear about. A side that is deep rooted and often not seen as racist by the person who holds the beliefs. While I can’t say I’ve ever seen it occur, I think it’s so important we’re aware of it.
      Thanks for reading!

  11. “Go Set a Watchman” should probably have been made available for interested parties (scholars) and not marketed as a general market sensation. I already was leaning toward not reading it, but this is a clincher. No one wants their early drafts published.

    Thanks for the thoughtful but blunt reviews!

    • That’s a great idea! That would have worked so much better, but of course, they wouldn’t have made the amount of money out of it that they did if they’d done in that way. If I could go back in time to my former self, I’d probably tell me not to read it. :S

      No problem! I hope I wasn’t too harsh, I was trying to be fair. 🙂

  12. I think I’ll save the “cheery” The Casual Vacancy for January reading. 🙂
    Becky, sorry to hear these last two reads didn’t thrill you. Hope you find some stories to fall in love with this Christmas.

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