“I’ll put it out there, and if everyone says, ‘Well, that’s shockingly bad – back to wizards with you’, then obviously I won’t be throwing a party. But I will live. I will live.”
– J.K. Rowling, in an interview
There are several reasons I’m hesitant to review this book. First of all, the review is several months overdue. I don’t have an excuse for this, other than I haven’t had time to construct a breakdown of Mrs. Rowling’s newest novel.
And, secondly, I have very few positive things to say of this story. I know I should technically be able to speak freely, but I’m still not totally comfortable trashing on a book by one of my favorite authors, especially seeing as she’s one of the most successful writers to date, and I’m an unpublished teenager with a blog.
But, I have a fair amount to talk about with this story. And so I talk.
Yes, I was (am) crazily obsessed with the Harry Potter franchise, but that doesn’t mean I started this book expecting to be blown away like I was by Rowling’s famous wizard. I decided to go into it with an open mind, expecting nothing. Unfortunately, I didn’t get much more than that.
Here’s the setup: there’s a small town called Pagford, which we know is filled with at least thirty-four people, as that’s how many main characters there are. Unfortunately, the most appealing of them—who’s still a bitter, reclusive journalist who doesn’t think much of his family, mind you—dies on page two. This character, named Barry Fairbrother, was on the town council, and his death leaves an empty seat which acts as a catalyst in the characters’ scrambles for power.
(Please note that this review, from here, contains spoilers. There isn’t a whole lot to spoil, honestly, but I still think I should warn you.)
If I summarized all of the sub-plots spattered across these five hundred pages, I could write a small book myself. So instead of wasting words, I’ll try to just hit the high points:
- We have Miles Mollison, who is predicted on page 10-ish to win the town election. On page 500-ish, he wins the town election.
- Sam Mollison, Miles’ wife, is constantly thinking snarky comments on everyone’s words and actions, all while fantasizing about running off with the lead singer of her daughter’s favorite boy band.
- Howard Mollison, Miles’ father, is a power-hungry member of the council. Notable for being the source of more obesity descriptions than I’ve ever read in a single book.
- Terri Weedon is a heroin addict with a three year old son, Robbie, and sixteen year old daughter named…
- Krystal Weedon, a student who juggles going to school, caring for her younger brother, and crushing Samuel L. Jackson in the imaginary game show, “So you think you can use the F-word more than me?”
- Stuart “Fats” Wall is a scrawny student at the same school as Krystal, and eventually starts a relationship with her (though this relationship is notable for its lack of emotional investment and honesty).
- Andrew Price is a school kid who’s best friends with Stuart and spends his free time stalking a girl in their class (at one point it describes in detail his combing through her Facebook photos).
- Simon Price is the father of Andrew Price, and chooses to show his affection for his wife and children by relentlessly abusing them both verbally and physically. He was my personal least favorite.
There are several others whom I could list out with their related sub-plots, but there are many other things I could do that would take far less time. Watching all of the Lord of the Rings movies, for example.
So those are the sub-plots of the novel. These unfold side by side as the pages slip from one hundred, to two to three to four hundred…and finally, around page 450…there’s an election! Holy Grail!
And it turns out exactly as expected. The least horrible character wins.
Then, just to finish off the narrative—this is supposed to be the grand finale, mind you—Krystal Weedon goes down to the river with her boyfriend, Stuart Wall. They don’t pay attention to her younger brother, Robbie, who takes several steps forward and drowns in the river.
Then, Krystal runs home and commits suicide with her mom’s heroin.
And on the last page of the book, as the two kids’ coffins are carried down the aisle with Terri crying, “the congregation avert[s] its eyes.”
This illustrates my biggest problem with the book, right down to the last sentence: there’s absolutely no redeeming qualities in this story. All of the characters start out as horrible people and end the same, if not worse. Instead of coming to terms with their own problems or trying to fix things, they all screw themselves over by being selfish. It’s as if Rowling and her publisher said to themselves, “You know how with that last series, we made a bunch of characters who start out bad and redeem themselves through love and forgiveness? Yes, this time, let’s do the opposite of that.”
See, I hate doing this. I hate trashing on my favorite author, but this book lends itself to criticism so easily. It tries to send out so many scrambled messages, but they all fall short on top of each other, leaving a mixed mess of unpleasantness we can’t wait to wash our hands of.
I will say, though, that this still is a compliment to Rowling’s skill as a writer. She decided to write a horribly depressing story, and I can honestly say she succeeded brilliantly in doing exactly that. So, in all sincerity, Rowling is still a great writer. She just needs to find a bit more uplifting—or at the very least, meaningful—material. As she said in an interview, “If everyone says, ‘Well, that’s shockingly bad – back to wizards, please,’ then obviously I won’t be throwing a party, but I’ll live.” The woman can still write, and she at least deserves credit for that. Unfortunately, it still can’t save this particular novel.
In conclusion: this is shockingly bad. Back to wizards, please.
Rate: 2 out of 10.