Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth is so bad I have almost nothing to say about it (and so will tell you about my accidental thieving – but first…). Continue reading
Tag Archives: Terrible
The Casual Vacancy: Just because you wrote Harry Potter doesn’t mean you should get to publish nonsense
I know I’m a few years behind the tide on hating J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy, so forgive the belated review: it’s a boring book and you shouldn’t read it.
Set it Pagford, a quaint British town (think the Vicar of Dibley), the story follows a ragtag cast of characters after the death of town councillor Barry somebody-I-don’t-remember-because-I-don’t-care. The book tries to make itself relevant and interesting by including cyber bullying, drug use, domestic abuse and racism. It succeeds only in being interesting by virtue of how terrible it is. And how difficult it is to remember who any of the characters are because they are all so boring and yawn.
I suspect the editor of the first draft wanted to put the whole thing in a fire, but felt compelled by the sheer force of the Rowling name to let it see the public eye. I jest (only a little). It’s not punishing to read, but it certainly belies the substance of the book to call this a ‘compelling’ read (as do some reviews) or a (ha!) page-turner. With nary a plot detail to compel, nor a character developed enough to be of the slightest interest (Rowling is surely the master of characters defined by a single character trait and stubbornly resistant to any change through circumstance or reflection) it’s a book you read out of a sense of inertia and a quiet fascination with how someone who wrote Harry Potter could also write this terrible thing.
What, if anything, could I say this book is about? Small town politics? Teenage relationships and the lack of parental engagement with youth? Hardly. I do think it’s trying to be about the social mores of our contemporary moment, but reads as an afterschool special that forgot that in order to make a reader care about an issue you first have to provide a compelling… something.
I have to admit I’m pleased it was so bad. Coming off the glory of A Little Life I was pretty sure whatever I read was going to pale in comparison. The Casual Vacancy did not disappoint in this respect. With my palate cleansed I feel ready for another terrific read: suggestions?
I watch crime procedurals to be soothed by the familiarity of the introduction, the red herring, the twist, the conclusion. I read mystery novels knowing that (the good ones) are intentionally playing with the genre, the expectations, the mode and pattern of discovery and twist. So on the recommendation of A. I started reading Mo Hayder’s *Birdman* with the expectation of formal/genre play. On that count the book delivered – much to my chagrin (and secret pleasure) I didn’t see the plot twists coming.
So what’s my problem? I suppose I wasn’t expecting the graphic violence, the victimization of women (both literally and metaphorically), the pleasure the narrative derives in long passages of brutality. My patience for this sort of normalized violence against women is wearing thin. Throughout this book I felt escalating frustration with the heroic rescue of women in distress, the small and large indignities visited on women’s bodies and identities and the supposed pleasure the reader is meant to take from encountering such descriptions. I did finish the book, but I’ll be taking a long break from Mo Hayder. And suggesting you only read this if you’re looking for examples of the ways in which representations of violence against women are made simultaneously normal and glamorous. Examples that you can then declare gross and reprehensible. And never read again.
I’m training for another marathon (have I mentioned that already?) and so am back into listening to books while training (nothing like a good “read” to get you through the kilometres). My latest listen was to Gillian Flynn’s *Gone Girl* and I’m sorry to report that it was Just Terrible.
Sentences like “he was so angry his head literally exploded” —> needless to say the rest of the paragraph did not focus on a headless protagonist as the “literally” might have you believe <— occur with a frustrating regularity. The contrived oppositional accounts of events do, at first, provide some interesting questions about narrative reliability, but the device gets dull as the intent for the back-and-forth becomes a clear echo of the “he said” “she said” question the book asks about reliability and persuasion. In short the form reflects the content far too closely to be anything other than obnoxious.
And then there’s the sexism. The reduction of women to whores, bitches or saints with nothing else to complicate them – no stand alone reasons for their actions or feelings – all is naught but evidence of their eternal and inherent archetypes. It was gross. And frustrating. And so terrible.
Forget the hype. Ignore the book. There’s nothing thrilling about wishing – so hard – that characters would just kill one another already and finding that they just won’t.