Four stars, read in November 2013.
I don’t know if it’s true, but I imagine the reaction to this book is what caused Rowling to adopt a pseudonym for The Cuckoo’s Calling. I’m irritated both that she had to do it, and that it was too late for The Casual Vacancy. This book deserved, and did not get, a fair chance.
I read so many reviews by people who claimed they weren’t comparing it to Harry Potter, but then did exactly that. The book has things in common with The Catcher in the Rye, The Interestings, everything by Jonathan Franzen, even Cold Sassy Tree—but it has nothing in common with Harry Potter. It’s not the same genre; it’s not the same style of writing; it’s not the same world.
Actually, I read a Goodreads review that seems to make the complete opposite point, and I think it’s valid—that “this book has many of the same elements, only without the safe haven of magic. Basically, this is a real world where a strange man showing up at your family’s doorstep at night is less likely to be a magical school groundskeeper but more likely your family’s drug dealer who, by the way, may not be adverse to beating and raping you for good measure. It’s the world left for Dudley Dursley and friends after Harry gets whisked away to magicland, and it ain’t pretty.” But really, that says more or less the same thing, because the magic is what makes Harry Potter Harry Potter. This book does not give us magic.
I ended up liking it very much. It’s hard to read books with unlikable characters, and there were very few characters I didn’t just hate most of the time, but it was easily worth all 500 pages (which I read in just a few days). I could understand or pity most of the characters even if I didn’t like them, and I really enjoy books driven more by character development and relationships than by plot devices. It has that feeling that occasionally gives me the sudden urge to read it again, whether I’ve seen it come through at the library or just thought of something that reminds me of it. I’m sure I’ll be picking it up again one day soon.