My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I surmise that most people who have picked up The Casual Vacancy did so because of name recognition and a degree of curiosity. I’ll be honest, I really didn’t have a clue what the book was about when I decided to read it. But J.K. Rowling wrote it, and that was enough. I wonder what kind of reception this book would have received had it not come from the same pen as the beloved Harry Potter series.
This is Rowling’s first novel for adults. And it seemed to me that she was adamant to make that point early on. She does not shy from using adult language and themes in this book, and for that reason alone, I will not give a blanket endorsement. But the themes and language are rooted in a realism from which Rowling weaves a life-like tapestry of a small community.
The Casual Vacancy is a striking piece of realistic fiction (with a degree of social commentary) that gives the reader an omniscient peek inside the minds and lives of members of the community of Pagford, focusing primarily on the members of seven “families.” If you liked watching the TV show Lost to see how the characters’ lives were connected, there’s a good chance you’ll appreciate the interconnections in this story. Those connections make the story move, but Rowling demonstrates here that her true magic is in character development. Each player in this story is real, multi-dimensional, and honestly imperfect. I was consistently impressed with the way Rowling managed to make the voices of each character unique and reflective of their traits. Anyone interested in studying character development should add this book to his reading list.
Because this is such a character-driven story, I personally had a tough time getting into this book and really felt like I needed to take notes. The reader is introduced to the full cast of characters in the beginning, and I’m terrible with names in real life, let alone on fictional ones. I had to read the beginning more slowly just to retain it, and because of that degree of concentration, it was less enjoyable. But once I had become familiar with the characters, I had a hard time putting the book down.
By the end of the book I was emotionally engaged with the characters, to the point of tears. I applaud Rowling for yet another wonderful novel. And I highly recommend this book, though only to those who have a high tolerance for the f-bomb and adult themes including sex, abuse, drug use, and suicide.