I read a couple of reviews for this book before I had hold of it myself. I didn’t get it on the day of release. I ordered it from Amazon the day before it was released, and it was sitting on my doorstep, box damp with dew, on Monday morning so I’m not quite sure when it arrived. I was a bit worried by some of the reviews. I wondered if I’d end up reading a manifesto rather than a novel. However, I like JK Rowling’s writing style, so I’d probably give it a go even if it had ‘Manifesto’ as the title.
The review which worried me the most was Jan Moir’s in the Daily Mail:
From start to finish, JK Rowling’s main area of conflict is between the selfish middle-class villagers and the noble savages on the poverty-stricken estate.
Well, no Jan, I have to disagree with you there. Whilst the origin of the conflict lies over that most exciting of subjects; boundary lines (and therefore responsibility), it has evolved to become mostly conflict within the middle class, some selfish, some not so. OK, mostly selfish, but aren’t most people? And the selfishness wasn’t confined to the middle classes. I didn’t spot many noble savages. The point is, that everyone has a back story. Everyone has a reason for who they are and where they are. In other words, they are all people. People generate conflict. Between classes, yes, but also between parents and children, between classmates, between doctor and patient, between husbands and wives.
Boyd Tonkin of The Independant said:
… the teens … belong in a bolder, richer book than some of the parental caricatures.
This, I think, is true. The teenage characters are far more memorable, far more real, than some of the adults. To me, the book was all about the teenagers. They were the characters who developed over the course of the book. They are the ones who will stick with you long after you’ve forgotten which one was Shirley and which one was Samantha.
I do have a couple of comments not triggered by other people’s reviews, too! I have a problem with books that introduce lots of different characters in lots of short chapters at the start. Just as in my real life, I prefer to get to know a few people slowly than meet lots of people all at once. (That’s the reason it took me three false starts before I read Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – too many quick introductions) This is a very personal gripe, and didn’t affect my overall enjoyment, but it did mean that at the time when usually I know whether I will love or hate a book, I wasn’t sure. The book did overcome that start, though and once I had met everyone we got on swimmingly.
Adult themes. Oh yes, there are plenty. Sex, drugs, abuse, self harm, mental illness. You have been warned. This is not a pretty view of an idyllic village. I’m sure there are plenty of residents of Pagford who live healthy, useful lives, never have affairs or take drugs or get too drunk, but they just don’t make such good fiction fodder.
Overall, I judge a book by how often I put it down to do other things, and whether tea ends up being late because I forgot to get up and start cooking. This is a one late school run and two late dinners book!