Shortly after this book was released, I perused some of the reader reactions online. It appeared that people either loved the book or hated it. I did not see many middle-of-the-road responses. This reminded me of something I learned in creative writing, that a strong response, either good or bad, is best. I decided not to indulge myself too much in the reviews but to instead read the book and come to my own conclusion.
Overall, I liked this book, but I won’t go so far as to say I loved it. It’s very much a tragedy in the Shakespearean sense, and I like tragic stories. The story is very plot-driven, which makes for an engaging read, but I would have liked to have a little more nuance to mull over. What can I say; I’m a book geek and I like to pick apart and analyze text.
For me, the strongest and most interesting aspect of this book is the way Rowling captures the language of the residents of the Fields. It is an English slang and it took finesse to present it in a way that seems natural. I could actually hear the cadence of the language in my mind as I read and this helped bring the characters to life for me. I’ll provide a short example where Terri, a resident of the Fields, is conversing with Kay, a social worker. The contrast between the two voices demonstrates how well Rowling captures the language.
“Terri, Mrs. Harper told me that Robbie has been absent a lot over the last three months. He hasn’t had a full week for a while, has he?”
“Wha’?” said Terri. “No, ‘e ain’. Yeah, ‘e ‘as. ‘E only jus’ mist yesterday. An’ when ‘e had his sore throat.”
“When was that?”
“Wha’? Monf ‘go…monf ‘na ‘alf…’bout.”
Rowling uses an interesting convention in building up to the tragic climax near the end (don’t worry, I won’t give any spoilers). The pace of the story increases and events are broken into shorter and shorter snippets that build to a crescendo until the final tragic scene is played out. It worked well for me and I found myself reading faster and faster until the tragedy was complete. I was then able to stop, relax for a minute, and finish the rest of the book.
As I read this book, I couldn’t help comparing it with the Harry Potter books. It would have been futile to try. I came to the conclusion that Rowling made a conscious effort to write something as different from Harry Potter as possible, to free herself from the artistic constraints. I think she was successful in that respect and she wrote a good book. My only hope is that if she writes another book that she is able to somehow combine the new writing style evident in The Casual Vacancy with the imagination of Harry Potter. If she can do that, she will have a masterpiece.