Book Review: The Casual Vacancy

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I am about 3 years late to the party on this one, but what can I say? This week, I finally got around to reading J.K. Rowling’s first novel after the Harry Potter series, The Casual Vacancy.  It was published in 2012, and I remember receiving it for Christmas that year, sticking it on my shelf with the intentions of reading it within the month, and well, here we are in 2015.  I honestly couldn’t remember what the book was supposed to be about when I plucked it off my shelves last week, so I dove in completely blind, which sometimes is the best way to approach a book.

The Casual Vacancy centers around the small town of Pagford, which seems very idyllic at first glance.  Underneath the thin veneer of cobblestone streets and cozy shops is a feud that is splitting the town apart (almost literally).  Politicians are feuding, families are feuding – it’s not a particularly happy time for anyone who lives in this town.  Now that I think about it, I can’t recall one truly happy character.  They all have small moments of joy, but overall, it’s a pretty depressing lot.

The novel opens with a death that sends ripples through Pagford, where everyone really does know everyone else.  Honestly, after the opening salvo, not a lot happens in the first half of the book.  There are daily lives being led, a few smaller plot points, but nothing major really.  That’s not an entirely bad thing.  The character development in this novel is insanely brilliant.  All the characters felt like real, tangible people, and all the characters (though glum) were readily distinguishable and unique.  There are so many characters to keep track of in this novel, but it never feels unmanageable.  The second half of the novel really ramps up the action; lots of things happen in the final 70 pages that impact the major families of the novel in heartbreaking and devastating ways.  I was absolutely stunned by the ending.  Rowling gave no hint as to what was going to befall one of the harder-to-like families.  My only complaint is that so much happens at the end and we don’t get to spend nearly enough time with the characters in that aftermath.  Perhaps a sequel is in order? Yes, please.

You know, I have to say, it’s funny the way people reacted to this novel.  I went on Goodreads and read some reviews after I’d finished.  I loved the book.  Seriously could not put it down during those rare moments when I got to read for fun.  I had to laugh at how many people had given the book one star because it was not similar to Harry Potter.  It certainly isn’t.  This is an adult novel, with lots of sex, drugs, and some violence, and I’ll admit, I did have a moment in the beginning of the book where I went, wait…JK Rowling writes about wizards and magic duels. she can’t be writing about teenagers having sex and heroin addicts… but she does it so well, in a way that is endlessly effortless to read.  If you are someone who is drawn to books that focus a great deal on developing characters, I’d highly recommend this book.  It’s a bit of a long one (my cloth copy is 503 pages), but so worth it.

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As an aside, I’m thinking of making Sunday book “reviews” a thing.  I feel a little silly calling them reviews, though that is what they are, when basically I just love telling you all about what I’ve been enjoying.  I’ve noticed that I usually tend to start books on Sunday and finish them on Friday or Saturday, just depending on how my week has gone, work wise.  I might not always have a book finished, but I think it could be fun (and motivating) to share my weekly reads!

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3 thoughts on “Book Review: The Casual Vacancy

  1. I’ve never read the Harry Potter series, but this seems far more interesting. Harry Potter relies more on plot coupons (The seven things you need to defeat Voldemort. Start the fetch quest!). This, just from the description reads like a character-centric novel. I prefer my novels not to be driven by external challenges, but let the characters drive it with their personality. Don’t give the characters hoops to jump through but show me what they’ll choose at the vending machine.

    1. This really is a character-centric novel. There are a few events that push the characters in different directions, but much of the book is inside of each of the character’s heads, figuring out what they like, dislike, want, are afraid of. It’s really my favorite type of book to read. I think it’s also important to remember that Harry Potter was a teen / young adult series, and written as such. Younger readers need constant action to keep their mind engaged.

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