The Globe's Book Club is back, and deep into the discussion about J.K. Rowling's first novel for adults, The Casual Vacancy. The majority of critics have hated the novel (including our own book club leader, Sandra Martin) - but so far discussion in the book club has been overwhelmingly positive.
Here the highlights from week 1:
Question: Did you feel as invested in the characters as you did with the Harry Potter clan?
While I still like the book a lot I don't love it as much as I loved Harry Potter. Perhaps it's a bit unfair to compare the two as they're obviously very different books and you're always going to care less about single book characters compared with series characters ... That said, I felt that she had a few too many point of view characters and not all of them were sympathetic. Some were fairly stereotypical (the angsty teenager, the haughty politician's wife etc...).
It was definitely a page turner though - she knows how to keep you reading even when it's not a 'mystery novel'. She makes some very interesting observations about all of these things but I won't ruin the surprises for you.
The characters can only change inasmuch as their lot in life allows. Maybe that's bleak, or realistic, or a bit of both. In the absence of wizard duels, Rowling was successful, I think, in satisfying us with more subtle victories for her characters.
I loved it. Very bleak. Very angry. And it should be called a genuine Young Adult novel as it certainly takes the YA perspective without the soaper crap one gets with Gossip Girl or other such tripe.
I found the book to be droll and dry, she should stick to writing for children.
You have to be kidding me, JK Rowling has more magic created in her books for a lifetime than any other.
I thought this book was incredible. Rowling's skill with characterization is unmatched. The story is very character-driven rather than plot driven, which is why some people may find the story dull. However, when you consider the development of the characters over the course of the novel, you realize how truly talented she is. I truly think this is one of the best modern novels I have read in a long time.
Question: Is there magic in the muggle world of The Casual Vacancy? Tell us why or why not:
Lived in an area similar to the one Rowling writes about, so I find the book approachable, but also frank and honest. As an author on her own merits without the conceit of a magical world, you can really see that she is a good writer. I really like The Casual Vacancy; while it is dark and bleak in bits, it's written with the focused but spare prose I've come to associate with Rowling. I really do like the book, and I'm very glad she hasn't lost her touch!
I think this book was deeply linked with her work on social policies related to poverty. While her characters were somewhat limited and stereotypical in ways it was for me an illustration of the people and the lives underneath the 'poor,' or the 'addicted.' I think she successfully highlighted the ways in which communities become divided and apathetic to the people they live with.
Question: Who is your favourite character and why? (Sandra Martin's is Krystal because she is gritty, smart, funny and loving.)
My favourite character ended up being Samantha because I found Rowling gave her the most room to develop as a complicated, multifaceted character that was ultimately believable. I also enjoyed the development of Gavin because I was drawn into his viewpoint and then remembered that he really wasn't a good guy towards the end!
The character I enjoy the most is Samantha. Her effort to go out of her way to avoid agreeing with Shirley is hilarious. She's quirky and deals with her unhappiness by drinking wine and daydreaming about a teen pop sensation (okay, he's 21). I enjoy her odd sense of humor and am interested to see how she develops in the last part of the book! She could not care any less about the politics of Pagford that is consuming everyone around her and she is not afraid to admit it. Samantha is a saucy one!
My favourite character was Andrew. At the outset of the novel Andrew has family challenges and relationship goals, and at the end of the book those challenges and goals still exist, but he has been able to effect positive change on both fronts through his actions. A bonding moment with his father and and a kind word from Gaia are examples of what I mentioned yesterday about subtle victories. If I cared about these moments I must have cared about the character.
The conversation continues at tgam.ca/bookclub - join us for daily discussion questions and insight from The Globe's Sandra Martin.