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The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling - Book Review

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The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

Little, Brown
  • The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling was published in September 2012
  • Publisher: Little, Brown
  • 512 Pages
J.K. Rowling struck gold with the Harry Potter series, which spawned an immense franchise including movies, toys, supplemental books, video games, rides at theme parks, and even a separate Harry Potter LEGO franchise with its own toys, video games, and books. The Casual Vacancy is the opposite of Harry Potter in many ways -- not for children but for adults, gritty and real instead of wholesome and fantastical, and with more emphasis on characters than a compelling, expansive plot. Though it took longer than other books I enjoy, The Casual Vacancy eventually won me over and by the time it was finished, I was disappointed it had to end.

The “casual vacancy” of the title is the term used when a seat on the parish council of Pagford is vacated due to a death. The novel opens with the creation of a casual vacancy, left by Barry Fairbrother, a member of the minority which is in favor of keeping a poor and seedy area of town under the auspices of Pagford Parish. His empty seat creates the possibility of further bolstering the opposition’s numbers, or for keeping Barry’s side alive. Scheming of all sorts thus ensues and sets into action a series of events which, very slowly, come to the unexpected climax at the end of the book.

The first half of the book is dedicated to character development and for that reason runs the risk of putting off many readers, especially those who were expecting something even remotely like Harry Potter. There are many characters and it can take a while to feel comfortable with them. I nearly gave up several times while reading the first half. There were too many characters to keep track of and too little plot. It was almost a burden to keep turning pages for a while, but eventually the story picks up and by the end I came to see the character development as necessary to enjoy the second half of the novel.

The characters themselves are generally unlikable and I think this, too, can be discouraging to readers. Each one is unhappy in some way and it gives the story a rather heavy or dreary feel. It would have been nice if a plump, friendly witch could apparate and magick some of the gloom away, but alas, this is the real-world and Rowling does not shy away from the worst of real-word problems: child abuse and neglect, domestic abuse, drug addiction, prostitution, rape, debilitating paranoia, self-mutilation, obsessive-compulsive disorder, bitterness, jealousy, revenge, and adultery. Despite this laundry list of filth, there are still plenty of glimmers of recognizability and relatability in most of the characters and I found them to be interesting once I got to know them.

Around the halfway mark, when I began to see there was indeed a plot and that this plot was thickening and picking up, I started to truly enjoy The Casual Vacancy for what it is and not what I expected it to be. Rowling’s writing is so communicative and enjoyable even when the story was slow-moving. I think many fans of Harry Potter will want to read The Casual Vacancy just because it’s Rowling next (and only non-Harry Potter-related) work, but it’s not for everyone. It has a good amount of coarse language and mature content, so be warned. Overall, however, I’d recommend The Casual Vacancy to readers who can enjoy slower-paced stories, well-developed characters, and to those Potter fans open to experiencing a different kind of J.K. Rowling’s creative story-telling.

Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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