The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

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3/5 stars.
ebook, 426 pages.
Read from March 30 to April 24, 2013.

Throwback review!


I would like to start off by saying that I came to this novel fully expecting it to be nothing like Harry Potter and was prepared for what I was going to be reading. Having said that I didn’t really enjoy it but I did change my rating to slightly more positive. This book follows the very personal lives of the people who live in the town of Pagford. It reflects how all of their lives interconnect through scandal and personal mishaps. Right after after I finished reading it I was just so appalled with how tragic and awful the characters and story line were! However after giving it some time I can somewhat understand Rowling’s approach. I believe she wanted to depict the masks that we all wear as individuals, the personal struggles that everyone has but hides and what sort of freedom we can have by shedding these facades. I also think that the story is also a statement about selflessness and authentically connecting with others, which can’t be accomplished if you are not honest with yourself. I feel that Fats summarized the novel perfectly:

“The mistake ninety-nine percent of humanity made, as far as Fats could see, was being ashamed of what they were, lying about it, trying to be somebody else. Honesty was Fats’ currency, his weapon and defense. It frightened people when you were honest; it shocked them. Other people, Fats had discovered, were mired in embarrassment and pretense, terrified that their truths might leak out, but Fats was attracted by rawness, by everything that was ugly but honest, by the dirty things about which the likes of his father felt humiliated and disgusted. Fats thought a lot about messiahs and pariahs; about men labeled mad or criminal; noble misfits shunned by the sleepy masses.”

Having said that I don’t know if Fats fulfilled his philosophy as he suffered the most near the books end. The teenagers in the book were truly the largest victims as they had their parent’s baggage, politics and facades thrown upon them making it impossible for them to be authentic to themselves. Krystal being the largest victim.

What drove me mad about this novel was how much I disliked most of the characters. Their actions and thoughts were just so despicable and negative making it hard to want to pursue the story because ultimately I didn’t care about these shallow individuals whose lives were solely based on small town politics. There were very few characters with redeeming qualities that I cared about, exceptions being Krystal and Barry. Obviously what I know about Barry is all third-party but I believe that these two characters were the only ones that were able to step outside of their own ego and care about someone else. For Barry, he saw something in Krystal and wanted to do what he could to bring her out of the awful slum she was living in. For Krystal, she would do anything for her brother Robbie. However, they still both had their faults. ***SPOILER*** Barry neglected his family and his stressful lifestyle lead to his death. Krystal believed, after Barry’s death, that by having a baby she could escape the life she was living with her drug addict mother and by pursuing this sort of selfishness with Fats she lost the one thing she fought so hard to protect, her brother and in the end her life ***END SPOILER***.

What I did appreciate about the end is that everyone was shown for what and who they were. ***SPOILER*** I think I gained the most satisfaction when Kay finally ditched Gavin. I think I despised him the most out of all of the characters. He was down right selfish and cruel to Kay by staying with her. In the end I suppose he showed his humanity like the other characters but I felt little sympathy for him when both Mary and Kay rejected him ***END SPOILER***.

Overall, I wouldn’t deter people from reading the book by any means but I wouldn’t read it if you’re feeling down in the dumps or have a hate on against the world as it won’t do much to restore your mood or faith in humanity

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

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4/5 stars.
ebook, 272 pages.
Read from April 10 to 18, 2015.

I have successfully read all 3 of Gillian Flynn’s popular novels. At then end of this review I will rank the three of them based on which of the three I like best.

Camille is a small time reporter in Chicago, with the hopes of hitting it big time. She is ambitious, blunt and abrasive, all great qualities for a reporter. However, she throws herself into work and into drink to stop from reminding herself of her estranged childhood and trauma. You start notice that Camille is plagued with scars of self-mutilation and her body is covered in words that she has carved into her own body. This behavior began in her teenage years and while she has since stopped cutting, she begins to reminisce when she is asked to report on the murders of some children back in her hometown, Wind Gap, a place she hasn’t been back to visit in eight years.  When Camille was a preteen, she lost her sister Marion, to a strange illness. Marion was her mother’s favorite and Camille never received the same attention or love the way her sister did. If anything, her mother had more disdain for her in that she wasn’t a feminine and and well-to-do little girl like Marion. Camille was always headstrong and never did what she was told and perhaps some of her mother’s disdain for her came from the fact that her father did not stick around. Her mother, Adora, is cold, proper, re-married and still living in the Victorian home that Camille grew up in. Camille’s mother has another child in her new marriage to dote on, Camille’s half-sister Amma, who is only thirteen. Amma seems to be the doting daughter that Amma always wanted but she is a vicious but smart young girl.  At least, Camille and Amma have one thing in common, they are both always living in the shadow of the dead Marion. Wind Gap is the type of town Camille was always anxious to get out of, a town where everyone knows everyone’s business and relationships are superficial so returning home, even temporarily was exceptionally difficult for Camille.

Camille learns that two young girls went missing and were found murdered, but something doesn’t quite add up as both of the young victims had all of their teeth removed and were unmolested.   She is able to get some extra information by liaising with a young and good looking FBI agent, Richard. Slowly, Camille starts to open herself up and begins a sexual relationship with Richard, however always fearing that he will reject her for her scars, she also starts to get quite close to Amma. This closeness unfortunately is going to blow the whole murder case wide open and Camille will learn things that she wished she had not.

It was Camille that made this novel for me. While I’ve never self-mutilated I felt drawn in to her scars and her desire to cover them and hide. It reminded me of my worst years with dermatillomania.  I just felt like I completely understood Camille and could relate to her entirely regardless of our different circumstances. I liked her tough approach to her life and even how she dealt with it. I appreciated that she had vulnerable moments in the book despite her facade. What Camille has lived through, what she has done to herself and what her family continues to do her to her is beyond tragic. She is not a typical protagonist by any means and I love her for it. I imagine that this novel made some people uncomfortable with its content. Here is Camille who is clearly a traumatized adult and hides nothing  from the reader in terms of her desire to cut words into herself, then Amma’s behavior is pretty hard to stomach at times,  let alone the way the two young girls in this small town were murdered, which, is why I love this plot. It’s unwholesome, brutal and honest. Flynn is never afraid to shed light into the darker areas of life and show that not all stories have a happy endings.

Alright, in terms of Flynn’s novels, here is how I would rank them:

1) Dark Places

2) Sharp Objects

3) Gone Girl 

I’ll just say this, it’s apparent that Gone Girl  was the favourite for most people, it was also the one made into a movie,  perhaps because more people felt they could relate to the crazy spouse?  I do know know that the other two books are a lot darker. Personally, I feel that Gone Girl is lacking. I appreciate the wit it took to create the plot but I felt it didn’t have the same dark and mysterious appeal as the other two novels. I mean, the crazy spouse thing has been in a lot of mystery novels, though not quite the same way Flynn does it, so I can appreciate that, but I just found that I never came to like the main characters in Gone Girl. I remember not initially liking Libby in Dark Places but I found as a reader, I grew with her through the story. Libby didn’t even like herself in the beginning as the only thing she defined herself by was the horrible murders that happened to her family. I was hoping that I would eventually come to like the couple in Gone Girl and I never did so inevitably I didn’t care what happened to these awful people, regardless of the twisted circumstances they found themselves in. Sharp Objects brought back the same obscure darkness I came to love in Dark Places.

 

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

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4/5 stars.
Read from January 14 to 20, 2013.
ebook, 452 pages.

Another throw back review! I wanted to include this review on my blog as I have now finished reading all of three of Gillian Flynn’s novels and when I write up my last review I want to size them up against each other. Dark Places was my first book by Gillian Flynn, and is by far my favourite. Read in 2013:


 

Well, this book caught me off guard! I really didn’t enjoy the first fifty pages of this book because the characters were so despicable and miserable! I could not find any basis of relation to them and therefore didn’t really cared what happened to them. That however quickly changed.

Libby, as a child, becomes the lone survivor of a mass murder that affected her entire family. The murder was spattered over every piece of media and was a big deal for a lot of years. As a reader, you entire the story when Libby is an adult and has been living off money from the fame of her families murder. While you initially feel sorry for her it quickly fades when you realize that she is kind of despicable and has done absolutely nothing with her life. She just seemed to accept that her own brother Ben was responsible for the crime and  that he was everything the media claimed he was.  It’s not until she runs of money that she gets involved with a fanatical group of people who are interested in famous and gruesome murders that she really starts to wonder what happened and begins to unravel her past and back to that horrible day.

I believe that Flynn really captures the innate curiosity that people have with “dark places”, the unknown, as well as how far human anguish can be pushed, and the limits in which people’s wills and can be stretched. What initially kept me going through this book, was this fascination. I really wanted to know if everything that was being said about Ben was true, not because I cared about Ben or Libby at the moment, but rather I wanted to actually envision a person that was legitimately capable of performing such a murder and I wanted to know as much about the inner workings of this person as much as possible. As the story continued to unfold I did find myself beginning to feel empathy for the characters, and that, mixed with this curiosity made for one hell of a dynamite book.

This novel is what the counterpart to a true crime novel would legitimately look like if it were written honestly. The true story, not the Hollywood sob story, of a victim of a horrendous crime; the remains of a broken human being that has never moved on and refused to accept her past. This is Libby. When Libby really started to actually deal with her horrifying past, is really when the novel starts to kick off and the ending is so rewarding after reading about how lifeless and miserable of a person she was. I found that in the end, this book is truly about redemption and forgiveness, not just of others or what has happened but forgiving ones self.

Beyond all that though, this novel is a killer mystery! I thought I had it somewhat figured who the killer was, though I wasn’t sure of the motive at the time, I was so stunned with what actually unfolded and the series of events the brought it all about. Wow!

Highly recommended for mystery lovers and those who like psychological thrillers! I look forward to picking up her other novels.