By the time I’d reached page 69 of this book, I realised that I hated it. Up to that point, I was still reading in hope that it would get better, that I might actually find a character to like, that the story might actually get interesting. But it didn’t.
The Casual Vacancy seems self-consciously adult, maybe because as a reader, one is so aware that this is JKR’s first book for adults. So swearing that you wouldn’t notice in any other book, nasty characters and the grimmest housing estate on the planet all seem to leap out at you as efforts to make this Very Adult Indeed.
There is nothing intrinsically wrong with this book: it’s very well written and the characters are vivid and instantly recognisable. I love JKR’s style. I love the way she puts her words together. I was willing to read anything by her, anything, truly: quite happy to venture outside of the Harry Potter universe.
But I’m not so willing to enter a universe of relentless ugliness. All the characters – up to page 69 anyway – remain unsympathetic. They’re all unlikable, all very true to life, but the sort of people you’d probably be quite happy not knowing and if I don’t want to know someone, why would I want to read about them? The small town politics, crappy comprehensive, vile council estate, drugs, death, dirt, shit: all of it is ugly, ugly, ugly. And while there are many, many other writers doing exactly the same thing, in books, in movies, on TV, on the radio, ugliness is not what I expected from someone who created a world of sheerest beauty.
I was convinced I would love this. I adore JKR. She is my favourite author. But I’m not so blinded that I wasn’t prepared to be disappointed. Disappointment I could have lived with. After all, she has nothing to prove. She doesn’t have to write for anyone except herself. So why this? Why would she be interested in immersing herself in this ugliness? Did she not see it? Do other people not see it?
Worst of all is that there is no imagination at work here. It’s like watching Sky News.