The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

I was so looking forward to the release of The Casual Vacancy that I pre-ordered my copy back in June, a full three months before it’s release date. That’s something I hadn’t done since Ms. Rowling’s last book release back in 2007. To say I was salivating with anticipation would be an understatement. Like most of the world I devoured the Harry Potter series and I was thrilled when the announcement came that she was releasing a stand alone novel to satisfy the cravings of her hungry fans.

While not a term commonly used in the America, a casual vacancy is a term used in politics to refer to an unexpected open seat in a political assembly through either a resignation, illness or in this case death. The reader is briefly introduced to Barry Fairbrother, a member of the Pagford Parish Council who unexpectedly drops dead in the country club parking lot thus setting in motion a fight amongst his opponents and supporters for a chance at filling the casual vacancy.

What’s at stake is a decision on whether to cut loose a section of town referred to as The Fields. The Fields is inhabited by a less than savory section of the population, the poor, down on their luck souls who wouldn’t be normally welcome in the homes of the upstanding citizens of Pagford. But Barry Fairbrother had grown up in The Fields, went to university and made something of himself. He was a champion for The Fields, and was passionately fighting for them to remain under the jurisdiction of Pagford.

If it sounds like a less than riveting plot you would be right. It’s slow, plodding start had me setting it down numerous times, but Rowling’s reputation and the fact that I had forked out good money for it kept me reading!   What saves it from being yet another boring novel is Rowling’s talents at characterization. She has an ability to paint a perfect picture of each character and make you feel like you really know these people, or at least someone just like them!

But there was just something missing from this book, it was missing some magic, and no I don’t mean the Harry Potter kind of magic. I mean the kind of magic that makes you want to read a book fast to see what happens, and then be bummed when you do finish it because you wanted more. Maybe my expectations were too high? You think?! But come on this is the amazing J.K. Rowling.

I got the feeling that by using an abundance of swear words and adult themes that she was hoping to break away from being stereotyped as just a children’s author. Kind of like when Julie Andrews flashed a bit of skin back in the 80’s in the movie S.O.B. to shake up her squeaky clean image. But then I noticed in her bio that she is a founder of Lumos, a charity devoted to helping disadvantaged youth live a better life, a major theme of this novel, and maybe an explanation on why she chose writing the novel that she did.

I feel like I’ve been pretty harsh in this review. I think it’s the disappointment talking! The book wasn’t terrible but it sure wasn’t great either. It was just average and J.K. Rowling is anything but average.

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7 thoughts on “The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

  1. Well, not that Rowling needs my help here, but I thought the book was, pardon my English, “bloody brilliant” and I feel it should be nominated for some kind of award. You have to forget about Harry Potter, there is no happily-ever-after here. Rowling seems to have a rather dim view of humanity as a whole. No one gets away scot free, everyone comes in for a bit of a trashing. The citizens of Pagford are a range of nasty and/or enabling, but the Fielders are not all innocent either. Everyone has some responsibility here, and even holy Barry Fairbrother and his wife don’t get away unscathed. Not a happy book, but I certainly could not put it down, staying up three hours past my bedtime to finish it. Her character studies are just right on the mark. And I loved her Harry Potter books, too. I think it is all in your expectation of the book.

    • I think you’re right that part of it was my expectations for this novel but while I thought her characters were spot on, the plot and the general pacing of the novel were just not my cup of tea. I really had a hard time slogging through it, until I got to around page 350 where the pace and story seemed to rapidly pick up and for the first time I too couldn’t put it down. I think I understand why she did a 360 and went down and dirty, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it!! And of course there is that constant between us~~we very rarely like the same books 🙂

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