New York Times Book Review of “The Casual Vacancy” (Spoiler Alert!) UPDATE
Sep 27, 2012
Posted by Catherine
The New York Times released its first book review of The Casual Vacancy this morning (SPOILER ALERTS).The NYT states that the overall feeling of the book was emotionally disheartening: ” The novel contains moments of genuine drama and flashes here and there of humor, but it ends on such a disheartening note “. The book is said to have “momentum” but it takes a while to get there. The reviewer, over all, was not very impressed with the novel, stating “it’s dull”, and did not feel Rowling’s characterization. The New York TImes reports:
Unfortunately, the real-life world she has limned in these pages is so willfully banal, so depressingly clichÃ©d that “The Casual Vacancy” is not only disappointing ” it’s dull. The novel ” which takes place in the tiny, fictional English village of Pagford, and chronicles the political and personal fallout created by the sudden death of a member of the parish council named Barry Fairbrother ” reads like an odd mash-up of a dark soap opera like “Peyton Place” with one of those very British Barbara Pym novels, depicting small-town, circumscribed lives.
This is definitely not a book for children[!]
As “The Casual Vacancy” trundles along and Ms. Rowling starts grappling with the consequences of her characters’ darker secrets, the narrative gathers momentum, but it takes a lot of pages to get there. In the meantime we are treated to tedious descriptions of the political squabbles exacerbated by Barry Fairbrother’s death and historical accounts of class tensions in insular Pagford ” most notably a face-off between one faction that is opposed to a public housing project and a clinic for addicts, and another that has a sense of duty toward the less fortunate. It’s a subject with the potential to reverberate with an American audience ” given the current battles between Republicans and Democrats over the role and size of government ” but as laid out here it’s oddly bloodless and abstract.
We do not come away feeling that we know the back stories of the “Vacancy” characters in intimate detail the way we did with Harry and his friends and enemies, nor do we finish the novel with a visceral knowledge of how their pasts ” and their families’ pasts ” have informed their present lives. Of course, Ms. Rowling had seven volumes to map out the intricacies of the wizarding world in Harry Potter. The reader can only hope she doesn’t try to flesh out the Muggle world of Pagford in any further volumes, but instead moves on to something more compelling and deeply felt in the future
The rest of the review can be read here.
UPDATE: The Guardian responds to negative reviews, stating:
“The Casual Vacancy is no masterpiece, but it’s not bad at all: intelligent, workmanlike, and often funny,” said Theo Tait in the Guardian newspaper.
“The worst you could say about it, really, is that it doesn’t deserve the media frenzy surrounding it. And who nowadays thinks that merit and publicity have anything do with each other?”