Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Thanks Jian! (The Casual Vacancy Review)

I'm sure most CBC Radio listeners think about how much they love Jian Ghomeshi on a pretty regular basis.  To be quite honest when Brahm started swooning over him a couple years ago I thought it was kind of silly and made fun of him a bit but now I TOTALLY GET IT.  One of my friends, who is in an 8-year very happy relationship, expressed to me recently how she was so sad to find out Jian was 45, because she really wanted to marry him, but not really... but kind of actually.  There's a reason that if you type "jian ghomeshi" into Google it sometimes auto-completes to "jian ghomeshi girlfriend" followed by "jian ghomeshi gay."  It's official - men and women alike are in love with Jian Ghomeshi.

Anyway, so Jian Ghomeshi is pretty awesome, but we all know that.  (If you don't know that, please start downloading some Q podcasts ASAP.)  I'm actually trying to get to my point, which is a bit of a review of J.K. Rowling's new book, The Casual Vacancy.

I am a giant Harry Potter fan.  I LOVED the books and every time a new one came out, I'd wake up early and go buy it first thing in the morning (I never went to the midnight parties - I'm not that into parties but also I wanted to be well-rested to take on a full-day reading marathon).  I didn't do the same with The Casual Vacancy though.  I was cautiously skeptical (I know that is super redundant) because... what if it wasn't very good?  What if it soured my love of J.K. Rowling?  I should have known to trust in one of my favourite authors but hey - all she had written was the Harry Potter series.  It's hard to call someone your favourite author based on one series of books, and know what else they can do.  I'd also heard some negative reviews through the grapevine so I figured I'd eventually read it but not right away.

Then as fate would have it, I was driving in my car and caught part of Jian Ghomeshi's interview with J.K. Rowling.  Now if we want to do some more Jian-loving, or if you're on the fence about how good of a broadcaster he is (yeah right) the fact that he scored an interview with J.K. Rowling is HUGE.  And it's an awesome interview as well - if you have 25 minutes, and especially if you aren't sure if you want to read The Casual Vacancy or have any interest in J.K. Rowling, please listen to it!  She discusses the book, the negative reactions to the book, and puts to rest those media accusations that she is reclusive (she just wants to write, and hang out with her kids!  Not give interviews every waking second).  The interview will make you love J.K. Rowling and want to read her book, and also make you love Jian for being the best interviewer ever.

Anyway so after I heard the interview, my interest was finally piqued enough that I decided to read the book.  I wasn't sure what I was expecting.  The plot, which is actually a bit slow-moving, is still page turning.  The characters, who I basically either hated or felt really sorry for, were still fascinating.  If you read a quick summary or get someone to tell you what the book is about, it sounds boring.  But it's not.  It's amazing, you won't be able to put it down, and you will finish reading it and won't be able to stop thinking about it for a long time.  And you'll want to discuss it with people so why do I not know anyone who has read this book arghh someone please read it so we can talk about it!

I absolutely hate that the most common description of this book is that it's nothing like Harry Potter.  Umm, no one said it was going to be anything like Harry Potter?  The only similarities are that a) it's a book and b) it's by J.K. Rowling.  So FORGET Harry Potter, stop waiting for Voldemort to pop out, and pick up this book with an open mind.  Because if you read it expecting Harry Potter you will be let down, as were most of the people who posted Amazon reviews of this book (I don't understand the one where someone said their ENTIRE book club either couldn't finish the book because it was so boring or passionately hated it.  That just baffles me).

The Casual Vacancy is not G-rated, as you may have heard.  If you are uncomfortable reading about adult situations, you probably shouldn't read this book.  But like J.K. Rowling tells Jian in the interview, nothing is gratuitous.  Every sentence in the book is important to the story or to the character development.  The characters are so realistic and so honest, it kind of gives you goosebumps.  You want to yell at them, you want to rescue them.  You will wonder as the characters get into deeper and deeper trouble how the book is going to end without being majorly depressing.

Without spoiling anything, some readers might think the ending is majorly depressing.  Some might think it is incredibly hopeful.  That's the beauty of this book - there's so much to think about and debate about in your head.  It's not cut-and-dry good vs. evil.  It's a book that's really about the characters, and the consequences of their actions.  J.K. Rowling said that the working title of the book was Responsible, which makes sense.  Responsibility is the major theme throughout the book and something you'll be trying to process long after you put it down.  Did everyone get what they deserved?  Who ended up taking responsibility for their own actions?  Did anyone?

If you've been on the fence about whether to read this book because of the mixed reviews and boring-sounding plot, I strongly encourage you to give it a try.  If you're an old J.K. Rowling fan or have never touched Harry Potter, I think you'll enjoy it.  Maybe enjoy is the wrong word because it's not necessarily a happy book to read, but it will move you.  Even if you hate it, it's the kind of book that will still make an impact.  J.K. Rowling is an amazing writer and I can't wait to read everything else she publishes in the future.  And she's definitely secured a spot among my favourite authors.

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