The Casual Vacancy, part 3

Picking up where I left off a couple of weeks ago:

One of the criticisms of J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy is that it’s just plain boring. I responded to other criticisms in parts 1 & 2, and I’ll offer my own opinion in part 4, but today I’ll respond to the charge of boring writing. A quick reminder here that I’m not responding to criticisms of everyday readers, but to criticisms offered by people who are paid for their professional insight into the world of books. In short, they are criticisms offered by people who should know better.

My gut reaction is to label critics who find The Casual Vacancy boring as just plain lazy readers, or possibly illiterate. This book has rape, adoption, death, drug use, sex, and drunkenness– I’m sorry, boring?!?! I can understand feeling an aversion to those topics, but I just don’t see how they can create ennui. What kind of jaded hipster wannabes are you?

That’s my gut reaction, but it’s not a fair one. On reflection, I can kind of see what they mean. One (extremely conservative, capitalist) critic read The Casual Vacancy as a platform for socialism, and couldn’t read past her own prejudices and political burn-out. I don’t think writing about the reality of life for the least-empowered people is de facto socialist, but if you hate poor people, then maybe that’s how you’d read Rowling’s book.

Another critic (living in London, I believe) labeled The Casual Vacancy boring because its plot is so dependent on the minutiae of small-town life. My feeling is that a reader who cannot draw parallels between the human condition in a small town and the human condition in one of the greatest cities in the world deserves exactly the provincial outlook such a limited mindset will inevitably doom him or her to. It’s like not liking The Lord of the Rings because of “all that nature stuff.” Plenty of people feel that way, but plenty of people are also missing the point of the text.

You know who complains about texts being boring? Middle school kids. High school kids. First-year students in a university’s required English literature class. You know who really needs to grow up and get past boring/entertaining? People who are paid to have insights about literature.

I think resorting to this puerile criticism is an indication that there are not that many negative things to say about The Casual Vacancy. I think it’s more fashionable to say bad things about Rowling because she’s been such a popular author, and it’s fashionable to hate popular things and people. I think critics feel a temptation to shove Rowling back into the children’s lit ghetto where they’ve pigeonholed her (“cubbyholed” her? ha ha– if you’ve read the novel already). And I think, in the heart of hearts of most readers, we all want more Harry Potter, and we’re all so sad that this book isn’t that. There are things about this novel that readers might dislike or find uncomfortable, but it’s not the stuff critics are pointing out. Turn in your press passes and laptops, critics. You’ve failed with this one.

Next time I’ll talk about what I think of this novel, and not just what I think about what critics think. And I’m doing it for free.

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