The Casual Vacancy

I finally had the chance to actually read a book that wasn’t for school (let alone write the review, I finished this book weeks ago!) So here we go: The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

Where do I begin to describe my feelings about The Casual Vacancy. I guess I’ll start by saying I did not have high hopes for the novel because it was bound to be a disappointment with Harry Potter not on the list of characters and the complete absence of the magical world Rowling is known for creating. In fact what Rowling delivered was a novel about very Dursley-esque, small-minded, self-absorbed, snobbish and judgmental people (Muggles) living in the small, fictional village of Pagford, England.

It is understandable to me that Rowling wanted to stray from Harry Potter and the global phenomenon one boy-wizard caused, especially after spending over a decade within the realm of the wizarding world, and I commend her for taking the risk especially under the crushing pressure of public expectations.

As usual, Rowling drew me in from the get go, not because of the story, which quite frankly was fairly dull, but because of the writing. She certainly has a way with words. At some points I did think some of the scenarios she described or details she included were a bit excessive and did not add to the storyline. I assume she included these things (the grotesquely-described used condom, which was “glistening in the grass beside her feet, like the gossamer cocoon of some huge grub”) to really differentiate herself from children’s writing.

She definitely succeeded in that respect: this story is NOT a children’s book. The pages are full of instances of rape, heroin addiction, domestic abuse, suicide and thoughts of patricide. It is bleak to say the least.

The story begins with a slow-moving description of the political squabbles in the town generated by the sudden death of one of the parish council members, Barry Fairbrother. The most notable face-off being between one faction that is opposed to a public housing project and a clinic for addicts, and another that has a sense of duty toward the less fortunate.

As Rowling wrestles with the dark inner secrets of her characters the story gains momentum with brief flashes of drama and humor, ending abruptly with an unsatisfying solution. The reader is left feeling whatever the opposite emotion is of how we felt at the end of the Harry Potter series. Lost? Depressed? Disheartened?

Instead of absorbing valuable lessons from the characters and plotline (see 15 Things I Learned From Harry Potter) such as bravery, loyalty and kindness, we lose faith in the human spirit, and are left with the a dismaying sense of human weakness and selfishness. It’s as though writing about the real world inhibited Rowling’s miraculously inventive imagination.

Overall, Rowling’s first attempt at writing an “adult” novel was not terrible, let’s just hope she doesn’t try to map out this particular story in seven novels and instead moves onto something a bit more meaningful. I still love you J.K. Rowling, good luck with the next novel!

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2 thoughts on “The Casual Vacancy

  1. Debbie Haseman

    I am conflicted. I so want to read this book, but it is just not the kind of book I like to read. I am glad to read that you thought her writing still met her standard as set in the HP books, but I wish she hadn't veered so far from that genre. Oh well. Maybe I will tackle it this summer when the summer sunshine will help to balance out the darkness in this book.

    Reply

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