The Casual Vacancy
When I heard that JK Rowling was bringing out an adult book, my thought was that people would doubtless find means to criticise it how ever good it was, the usual kind of British behaviour of taking someone successful and taking them down a peg or two by letting them know that they can't be good at everything.
With this in mind, I wanted The Casual Vacancy to be great, I wanted her to be able to move on from Harry Potter, I wanted to be supportive of her book, but having read it, I just can't be.
The story of an election for a council seat left vacant by a death; the characters are less that by definition than they are caricatures, walking Daily Mail cliches, the woman who resents the Asian doctor wearing a sari and won't speak to her lesbian child, the domestic violence husband, the disapproving NIMBY response to the council estate encroaching on the Village school catchement. The one guy who managed to rise "despite his background" and is seen as a bleeding heart. The fact that a character being from a Council Estate is automatically synonymous with drug taking, drug dealing, being the school problem child, trying for a baby to get your own house, incest, and social worker involvement. It's all so Daily Mail editorial extreme on the one side and on the other "middle class stereotype" characters that only exist in the minds of people who generalise "typical Daily Mail readers" it's all so hackneyed and unoriginal. JK seems to be using her characters to sneer at "middle class" sorts who have that opinion, yet her council estate based characters live up to every one of the prejudices they hold.
The inclusion of swearing and sex often feels forced and only there to state "hey, look everybody, this isn't Harry Potter' I'm not writing Harry Potter anymore! Frequently it just feels surplus.
As has been stated, whilst the adult characters are embarrassingly cliched, and the general writing itself not particularly high quality (at the beginning of the second section, I felt like it was an alternative opening to the novel that she had rejected) there is an interesting story to be found among the towns teenagers but they too are tainted with the cliches of their parents. The Indian child just isn't living up to her mothers perfectionist expectations, the son of the domestic violence couple just wants to stand up to his violent father.
Amongst all this "been here, read that" familiarity lie two characters who actually have an interesting story to tell... Colin Wall and his adoptive son Fats, but not enough is explained about what Colin's unusual psychological problems are - there's a whole novel to be found in there, and I think it would be a sight better than much of the banality on display here.
I did like the last 40 pages or so, but that's simply not enough to warrant calling the book "good" I found that through most of it I was splitting it up into chunks "read X amount of pages in this sitting" just so I could finish it, because I didn't have the automatic desire created by enjoyment spurring me on but I wanted to treat it fairly and read the whole thing.
90% terrible and a genuine struggle 4/10