Book review: The Casual Vacancy

Mmmmm. 😐

I’m in two minds about this one. It was a reasonably enjoyable book: decent characters, excellent sense of place, not too fast, not too drawn out,  interesting plot and extremely well told.

While I was reading it though, I just had the sense that I should be enjoying it more.

Part of the problem was that the book was a little too precise, perhaps a little too formulaic for my tastes.  The prose was very well constructed and flowed nicely, but it didn’t really deviate in terms of energy or style; there were large tracts of text where I just, sort of, drifted off…

The_Casual_Vacancy

There was also an awful lot of exposition too; so much in fact that there was almost no room to let the characters grow inside your head; their exact thoughts and feelings about everything and everyone around them was laid out in the most painstaking detail. Now, usually I find this unnecessary, but in this case there were so many characters who thought and behaved in much the same way (that’s village life for you) that I was happy with any hint I could get.  Nevertheless, on a number of occasions I found myself reading about one character only to realise that I’d mistaken her for someone else entirely. And here I think was the biggest problem for me: the characters held no surprises. I might go further to say they there a little stereotypical: the people on the council estate neglected their offspring and took drugs, the older villagers were comfortably well-off and politely racist, and the professional indian couple focussed on their more academically capable children.

Still,  The Casual Vacancy worked for me was in the setting: I really got the “Little Britain” feel which remained consistent throughout the book. It was earthy, and nicely grounded in the real world.

I just wish I had enjoyed it more. 🙁

Book review: Forever Free by Joe Haldeman

I was looking forward to reading Forever Free, but having finished it, I was left feeling a little disappointed and slightly confused. It wasn’t that there was some element of the story I didn’t understand; it was just a general feeling of ‘Huh?’ when I finished the book.

Forever Free is the third and final book in the Forever War series, and follows the lives of the war’s veterans as they struggle to cope with, and ultimately escape from, a universe that has simply evolved past them. They hatch a plan to travel faster than light for a decade and then return some forty thousand years in the future where…well, here’s the thing: forty millennia from now, the universe would have evolved even further. Wouldn’t the escapees feel even more isolated and displaced?

forever_freeAnyway, not a huge problem; the book is still very enjoyable thanks to Haldeman’s writing style which is stark and yet still manages to flow beautifully. The book is much more sedate than the first two, lacking much of the action of the Forever War and the drama of Forever Peace. Again, not a huge problem for me, though I did find it a little pedestrian in places.

Unfortunately, the book does wither away towards the end. There’s a mad dash towards an awkward and unconvincing conclusion (and the resolution is where the ‘Huh?’ comes in) and then sort of just stops and the universe returns to normal.

So, yes, a little disappointing. I was expecting something a bit more profound from such a talented writer.

Recommendation: Blonde Roots by Bernadine Evaristo

This isn’t really a book review, as I read Blonde Roots a few years ago and had cause to revisit it again recently for some background reading on slavery. I’d quite forgotten what a little gem this book is.

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It’s a kind of ‘alternate history’ novel that tells the story of a young girl taken from her home to work the plantations in a foreign land. But in a rather clever twist to history as we know it, Ms Evaristo has spun things around. In her world of the nineteenth century, it is the Africans who are kidnapping Europeans by the thousand and transporting them to work their farms and plantations.

Mind-blowing stuff.

The story is beautifully written and told without frills or compromise. After a while you forget that this isn’t the world as we know it, but still remain struck at the injustice and cruelty of the slave trade and how it demeans both the sufferers who endure it and the slavers who profit from it.

A great book which I’m glad to have rediscovered.

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