To get the obvious out of the way first: No, it's NOT Harry Potter, to the point where you'd have a hard time recognizing it as by the same author. ItTo get the obvious out of the way first: No, it's NOT Harry Potter, to the point where you'd have a hard time recognizing it as by the same author. It is not a fantasy; it is set in a very real, raw, harsh England. Rowling's fondness of quirky names and puns are nowhere in evidence, nor is the sense of humor that was often displayed in the Potter books. These are not bad things, they are just an absence of the things that may be most recognizably Rowling.
This is also an ensemble work; there are at least 15 point of view characters. Profanity is engaged in by some of the characters. A few of the characters engage in a LOT of profanity. Sex is talked about and engaged in (not gratuitously, and not glamorously). These are things you are probably NOT expecting from Rowling, but they are not at all out of place in this novel. It should simply be observed that this is *not* a young adult novel.
The things that *are* recognizably Rowling, however, are the strong, distinct characters and the strong plotting. As you get to know the characters, the events of the final act come to seem inevitable, a perfect storm of events driven by the reactions of characters to earlier events, all precipitated by the death which opens the novel.
Our point of view characters include some teenagers, their parents, and members of the Pagford Parish Council, who were opposed in life by Barry Fairbrother, whose death opens the novel and who in life was a charismatic leader of the segment of the town council opposing the leader. Despite his death in the opening act, Fairbrother emerges as the most likable character in the novel. The novels plot revolves around the attempts of his political foes to take advantage of his death, of his friends and allies to live up to what they feel Fairbrother would have wanted, of people who want to take advantage of the opening he left on the council for their own ends, and of people who really have no particular interest in Fairbrother at all yet take advantage of it to strike out at others who are interested in the vacant seat (the casual vacancy of the title).
The characters vary in likability, yet each is distinct and complex. Some are tightly bound but drifting apart; others begin as acquaintances and form alliances or friendships. Many of the characters are unlikable, and many of them dislike one another, while pretending (unsuccessfully) that they get along. Most of the other characters are a mixture of bad traits and sympathetic ones, each different than the other yet all relatable in some fashion. This is not a novel of heroes and villains, but of everyday people forced into a series of unexpected confrontations. Some of the characters find themselves ultimately transformed by the events of the final act, while others, too ashamed to admit their own shortcomings, remain willfully obtuse.
A coming of age story set in Plymouth based on the life of Constance Hopkins, a teenager on the Mayflower. The story is told in the form of entries inA coming of age story set in Plymouth based on the life of Constance Hopkins, a teenager on the Mayflower. The story is told in the form of entries in a fictitious diary, though Constance herself (and the other characters) are all historical figures and many historical incidents and details about life in early Plymouth are woven in to the narrative. Constance (who is an ancestor of my wife, hence my original interest in the story) crossed on the Mayflower with her brother, father, step-mother, step-sister, and a step-brother (Oceanus) born en route. Opening with the arrival of the Mayflower off the coast of New England, the book follows the founding of the colony, the deadly first winter, the meetings with Samoset and Squanto, the first Thanksgiving, and the arrivals of the next few ships, bringing supplies and new settlers (more of the latter than the former). Along the way, we see Constance's growth into womanhood, and her burgeoning romantic entanglements, and we conclude with her marriage, several years after the colony's founding.
Altogether, this was much more engrossing that I expected, and I enjoyed it enough that I might hunt down a copy for ourselves.
More information about Constance Hopkins can be found on Wikipedia....more
Rafael Sabatini was an Italian ex-pat who settled in England near the turn of the century and eventually made a name for himself as a writer of classiRafael Sabatini was an Italian ex-pat who settled in England near the turn of the century and eventually made a name for himself as a writer of classical romances (historical adventures, what we today would call swashbucklers). Most of what I've read of his ranges from good to mediocre, but he has two masterpieces of the form, which are Scaramouche and Captain Blood.
Captain Blood (1922) concerns the life of Peter Blood, a former soldier of fortune who had retired to the English countryside to practice medicine, the trade for which he had been educated. In the aftermath of a failed rebellion by the Duke of Monmouth against King James (in which Blood did not participate), Blood is called upon to treat the wounds of a nobleman who was on the wrong side of the rebellion. While doing so, he is rounded up by the king's soldiers, and is condemned to a life of slavery for giving succor to a rebel. He is sent to Barbados, where he meets both his nemesis--Col Bishop, the harsh plantation owner who purchases him--and the woman whose love he ultimately comes to desire--the Colonel's niece.
The opening act concerns itself with this setup, and with Blood's efforts to lead an escape from his slavery. Blood then begins a career as an uncommissioned privateer, wreaking havoc amongst Spanish colonies and ships throughout the Caribbean. There are several excellent set-pieces during which Blood shows not only his skill as a fighter and captain, but also his wits and quick thinking. The combination of brawn, brain and wit are winning, making Blood a very memorable character. Eventually, of course, circumstances bring Blood and Miss Bishop back together again, and mutual misunderstandings keep them apart for a while in order to draw out the romantic suspense (and provide more opportunities for daring escapes).
A long time favorite (I was introduced to the book by way of Philip José Farmer; Blood is one of the members of his original Wold-Newton family tree), I have read this several times over the years and consider this one of my favorite sea-based swashbucklers. The movie (1935), with Errol Flynn in his screen debut as Blood and Olivia de Haviland as Arabella Bishop, is also recommended, though it leaves out some of the best set pieces in the interests of keeping a manageable running time....more
It took me a while to get into this. I came to the novel by way of the movie, a masterpiece of mood and atmosphere. And about half way through the booIt took me a while to get into this. I came to the novel by way of the movie, a masterpiece of mood and atmosphere. And about half way through the book, I discovered it was having the same effect on me--it starts slow, but pulls you in gradually, becoming more and more engrossing.
Set during the Italian unification and its aftermath, the novel concerns itself with Don Fabrizio, the Prince of Salina, an atypically intellectual and self-reflective noble of one of Sicily's old families. The war itself is always a background element, never a foreground--this is not an action oriented story. The war merely serves as a catalyst--it marks the beginning of the rise of the bourgeois, and the subsequent decline of the nobility.
Given his nature, Don Fabrizio, unlike the majority of his family and peers, recognizes early on the implications of these changes. Entering middle age as the novel begins, he muses about not only his own personal decline, as he leaves his youth behind him, but also about the general future decline of his family, their fortunes, and his way of life.
Perhaps the only other character as perceptive as the Prince about current events is his nearly penniless nephew, Tancredi, who the Prince seems to love perhaps more than his own children, none of whom the Prince seems to believe (correctly, as it turns out) strong enough to carry the family name through the coming changes. Tancredi is young enough to fully engage in the rebellions and politics of the day, and he and the Prince have the foresight to arrange an advantageous match between Tancredi and the daughter of a newly wealthy landowner in the Prince's domain. The forced interactions between the Prince and Angelica's low born father are always discomforting to the Prince, who sees the future in this wealthy, weasely little man who is already wealthier than the Prince himself but lacks taste and breeding.
On the whole, this is a novel of melancholy reflection. It is about the passing of a way of life, about the passing of a great man who is leaving behind less than he was given, a man who sees change on the horizon but can't see enough change in himself to meet it. It is a novel of middle age. It is novel of a man who knows his place in the world, and who knows that that place is fading, but knows himself to well to think he could change who he is. It is a story of a man who is slowly, gracefully, making way for the new....more
Even though there's something a bit formulaic about the books, they're still vastly entertaining reads, mostly due to Jackie's irrepressible nature. OEven though there's something a bit formulaic about the books, they're still vastly entertaining reads, mostly due to Jackie's irrepressible nature. Outrageous coincidences abound, as we run into old friends and enemies everywhere, but it's carried off with such aplomb we don't care. Reminds me a bit of a '30s or '40s adventure serial. Recommended, but of course you should start from the beginning....more