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. It...moreTo 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 wonderful book. I first learned about Gottfredson's Mickey nearly three decades ago, but most of my encounters with it have been piecemeal. It's gre...moreA wonderful book. I first learned about Gottfredson's Mickey nearly three decades ago, but most of my encounters with it have been piecemeal. It's great to finally have the beginning of a comprehensive, chronological collection in a sturdy, beautiful, affordable English edition.
The book covers Gottfredson's first work on the strip, which began very early in the strip's life (for the sake of completeness, the pre-Gottfredson strips are included in one of the archival supplements in the rear). A wealth of supplemental material is included after the strips. The strip apparently began as a humorous gag-a-day strip with limited continuity, and those early strips are pretty lackluster. The syndicate apparently suggested (strongly) that Walt try a more adventurous format, which was then in vogue, and so Walt began the title storyline, "Race to Death Valley". The book begins with this story. Gottfredson picked up the art chores a couple of weeks into the story, and not long after Walt handed off the writing to Gottfredson as well. Gottfredson remained the strips writer through the '70s (though he usually had help with the art).
Despite some dismissive comments in the introductory material that Gottfredson was just starting to learn the ropes with this first story, I actually enjoyed it the most of the stories in the book. The other stories aren't in any way bad, but most of them didn't have quite the same balance of slapstick and pure adventure that the opening story did. The other stories were for the most part quite good as well, but still experimental too--Gottfredson was trying different settings, pacing, and balances of the competing slapstick and adventure elements.
As is typical for Fantagraphics reprint collections, the production values on the book are high. Nice paper, crisp reproduction, a wonderful cloth and matte cover, solid binding. The only thing I found myself wishing for was a bound in ribbon bookmark.
Looking forward to more in this series, as well as their forthcoming collections of Carl Barks' duck stories.(less)