07 August 2013

The Casual Vacancy

By J.K. Rowling
Published by Little, Brown and Company
First Edition:  September 2012

This is a perfect example of "don't judge a book by its cover".  This is truly one of the worst covers I have seen and if the book had not been written by J. K. Rowling I doubt I would have picked it off the shelf.  That said, I have since seen the cover for the paperback version and I really like it; that's a book I would pick up and look at.

Cover looks aside, the book is terrific.  The story takes place in the village of Pagford where the death of councillor Barry Fairbrother puts the residents of the village at odds with each other.  Some residents want the changes that came around because of Fairbrother to stay, while others want his vacant council seat to be filled with someone who can undo what has already been done.  The most contentious issue for Pagford is the Fields, the scruffy social housing part of town that houses the local methadone clinic, and where its boundaries should lie.

The cast of characters is huge and Rowling does a good job of managing them.  From the opening chapters where news of Barry Fairbrother's death spreads like wildfire, to the depths of the book where the political plotting is at its utmost, to the resolution, the characters remain interesting and true to life. 

There is a lot of darkness in this book.  There is drug abuse, rape, domestic violence, bullying, prostitution, and self-mutilation.  I found, however, that I cared deeply about the characters and their lives.  If you read in bed, this is the sort of book that will leave you lying awake long after you have closed the cover, unable to sleep and wondering what will happen next.

I hear the BBC is airing The Casual Vacancy as a television drama in 2014.  Read the book first; it's rare for any movie or series to ever live up to the world you imagined whilst reading the book.

04 August 2013

A Week in Winter

By Maeve Binchy
Published by Orion Books
an imprint of the Orion Publishing Group Ltd.
First published in Great Britain in 2012

It's taken me a long time to write something about this book.  Knowing it will be the last Maeve Binchy book I will review is making this an unpleasant task.  I have read every single one of her books, her short stories, her plays; whatever she has written, I have read.  I have spent many a day in the Ireland of my mind's eye - an Ireland only Binchy could write about.

Set on the cliffs of the west coast of Ireland, Stone House is where guests arrive to stay for a week in winter.  Each guest brings their own story to the hotel, and the hotel itself has its own story - previously, it had been the home of the Sheedy sisters and is now owned by Chicky who worked herself to the bone to get where she is. 

As with a lot of Binchy's books, the characters are allotted their own chapters, with some intermittent crossing over of other characters both old and new.  The week brings John, an American movie star; Nell, a retired school headmistress; Freda, a librarian; Anders, a Dutch businessman; future in-laws Winnie and Lillian; and the prize-winning Walls, among others.  It is Chicky's belief that the lives of her guests will change once they are settled in and discover that walking on the local cliffs and trails and spending time with other people is far better than modern life with all its so-called conveniences.  In true Binchy style, the lives of the guests blend nicely with the lives of the staff.  Not all of the stories are happy ones, but they are all interesting.

I enjoyed this book and wanted to savour every word.  It's a lovely book, and if you're already a Maeve Binchy fan you will certainly enjoy it.  If you are new to the Maeve Binchy world (shame on you!), I would suggest starting with the same book I did:  Light a Penny Candle.  I have only re-read two books in my life and Light a Penny Candle was one of them. 

I will miss Maeve Binchy.  She brought a lot of joy and introspection to my life as I discovered Ireland through her words.