By Alison Kanski | Contributor Published: 07/13/2013 10:00 am EST
Publish date: September 27, 2012 Publisher: Little, Brown and Company | Buy Book
As a rabid Harry Potter fan for the majority of my life, when J. K. Rowling released her new novel for adults, The Casual Vacancy, I couldn’t wait to read it. Because I am (technically) an adult who grew up with Harry Potter, I felt it was my duty to experience how Rowling would write to my age now. The novel begins on a somber note, with a sudden, tragic death, which sets up the mood for the remainder of the story. Delving deep into the mind and life of each character, Rowling creates a realistic, although unusual, community of people.
The status quo of Pagford, a small, old-fashioned English village, is disrupted with the sudden death of town council member Barry Fairbrother. The death creates a small town political struggle that quickly escalates and wreaks havoc on the personal lives of nearly the entire town’s population.
The book has a cast of eighteen main characters whose minds we enter, with another dozen or so secondary characters surrounding them. Naturally, in the beginning of the novel the names and relations get overwhelming. It took about a quarter of the book for me to get all the names completely straight in my head. However, the distinct personalities of each of these characters turned them into real people in my mind and helped me to keep them separate. Rowling’s ability to write people of all ages and backgrounds is astounding. She tackles teenagers (who we all know she is a master at writing), the 20- and 30-somethings, the middle-aged, and seniors with precision.
Although I commend Rowling’s ability create characters of any age, their problems seemed a bit clichéd. The unhappy marriage of a couple who was forced to wed due to pregnancy, a morbidly obese man who is small-minded and obnoxious and his skinny wife who knows everyone’s business (sound like the Dursleys to anyone?), middle-class teens who rebel against comfortable lifestyles, and a junkie mother whose daughter is strangely impervious to her lifestyle, to name a few. All feel like something that has been done before. Then again, there is some truth in the old saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
I described the novel to a friend as “reading a soap opera”. Like a soap, this novel is dramatic, convoluted, and sometimes petty. Rowling touches on many tough issues in The Casual Vacancy, including: rape, death, abuse, drugs, sex, self-harm, mental problems, and more. While it can, at times, seem like overkill for all of this to be happening in one small town, we must remember that this is a work of fiction; if Rowling can create magical worlds without being questioned, then she can create this cast of cruel people living in the same small village. A novel that begins harmlessly, and even a little slow at times, unfolds into a story that exposes characters’ capability for cruelty and revenge, but also friendship and family.
The things I disliked about this novel? The main problem for me was the length. It seemed like Rowling could have eliminated some parts of the book simply to trim down the 503-page monster (Luckily, I bought the eBook version so I didn’t have to drag around a book that size). Because of the length, somewhere around the middle of the novel I became discouraged, waiting for more action to appear. The story ramps up again towards the end, but it took some perseverance to actually get there.
After reading customer reviews of this book before buying it, I found that the most common complaint about the novel was the all-around depressing plot and cruel, unlikeable characters. In all honesty, both of these statements are entirely true. That being said, I think it takes a certain taste to enjoy and appreciate this book. If you’re looking for, or generally like, an uplifting novel with characters who redeem themselves despite their flaws, this is not the book for you. But if, like me, you strangely enjoy depressing novels and unfavorable characters, then I would recommend The Casual Vacancy.
Alison is studying English at Winthrop University. She was born in New Jersey and transported to South Carolina. She spends her free time reading, watching TV and movies, blogging, and daydreaming. She has an encyclopedic knowledge of all things Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and Doctor Who.
Summary:GOOD: The wide cast of characters and heavy, slow-moving storylines can weigh down The Casual Vacancy at times, but the well-crafted and realistic personalities help to draw the reader into the mundane drama of life in Pagford and ultimately redeem the novel.
Book Type:Digital Edition
Genre:Black Humor, Drama