J. K. Rowling: The Casual Vacancy

28 Nov

Today I would like to break a lance for J. K. Rowling’s latest novel – and her first novel for adults, as it says in the blurb: The Casual Vacancy.

To cut a long story short: It was one of the best, if not THE best (contemporary) novel I have read in the past ten years. Only Stieg Larsson caused in me the same urge not to put the book down. With anything else on the bestsellers’ lists in recent years, I could not down any more than the first three pages. Rowling’s novel I gulped down. You don’t just read this novel – you live it. This is expecially remarkeable, since, none of the (around 30) characters is at all likeable!

So how can you like a novel, but none of its characters?

A novel has to be made of two vital ingredients – the characters who drive the plot, and the style of writing.

Rowling’s secret lies in the way how the characters are described – you can actually feel them; you feel their presence in the room, and if I was to make a movie out of it, I would already know which actors to cast! They just feel so so realistic, it is rather stunning. Is that why you cannot take to any of them? Because they are so natural and versatile rather than just heroes and villains? Anyways, the characters’ development is what drives the story, and the way how the strands of action are intertwined simply reveals a master of language who is very, very rare to find nowadays. Many self-professed contemporary writers think they can write, but very very few can write in such a compelling way, that there cannot be found any slip-up, anything unlogical. Everything in the plot just makes perfect sense. Even though the characters are not likeable, it is them who make the book likeable.

In the same manner, although Rowling uses the vilest and most evil words, it just never feels out of place. It never feels crude. It is aesthetic writing on every page, beautifully crafted, almost comparable to the 19th century realists. This is why this book is such a precious gift in today’s superficial literary world. People have bemoaned the fact that “nothing happens” on the 504 pages of “The Casual Vacancy”. One of the world’s greatest works of literature is Theodor Fontane’s “Stechlin” – 500 pages on which “nothing happens”. Of course, this is not appreciated in today’s pleasure-seeking, fast-paced world. But literary beauty lies in the crafty depiction of the characters, and the style of writing which has the task of transforming crude reality into a jewel. It is obvious that “The Casual Vacancy” was written by someone who is a master of words – and never loses this mastership once. This is about the picture of society, and not about the plot.

As realistic and mixed as the characters are, so is the ending of the novel. Without revealing too much of the contents, I would like to conclude that in this adult novel, it is the kids and teens who lift the blanket and display their parents’ and grandparents’ hypocrisy. It is the new generation who takes responsibility and stands up for what they do. Yes, the ending IS depressing, but at the same time, there is hope for a new start – a new generation.


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