Author: J.K. Rowling
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Published: September 27, 2012
Read: November 1-4, 2012
In A Few Words: Disappointing and Depressing
My Rating: 2 Stars
Goodreads: Add this to your TBR Shelf
When Barry Fairbrother dies in his early forties, the town of Pagford is left in shock.
Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, but what lies behind the pretty façade is a town at war.
Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils...Pagford is not what it first seems.
And the empty seat left by Barry on the parish council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen. Who will triumph in an election fraught with passion, duplicity and unexpected revelations?
The Casual Vacancy is J.K. Rowling’s first novel for adults.
I want to preface this review by saying, I love J.K. Rowling. Really, I do. But, I most certainly did not love this book.
When I first saw the cover for this book I thought, "That's it? What a boring, bland cover."
Now, it makes perfect sense. A boring cover to go with a bland book. I'm usually a quick reader, but I truly struggled in making my way through this book. I had to coach myself through each hundred pages. I strongly considered calling it "DNF" at one point, but I soldiered on. I can't honestly say that I'm happy I finished it.
The first fifty pages is interesting, because we're all trying to figure out what's going to happen to the town now that Barry Fairbrother is dead. There are a lot of unkind, even vindictive thoughts at his death, which initially, are intriguing. What these thoughts end up being are a precursor to all the pettiness and jealousy that the townspeople have for one another. After that initial 50 pages, it feels like the rest of the book just descends into pettiness and jealousy with teenage angst thrown in.
There are a lot of different issues thrown into this book, and sometimes it feels like it's just too much altogether. There's the politics of course, but then there are subjects like rape, incest, drug use, suicide, cutting, adoption, relationship issues, drinking, etc, the list goes on. It almost felt like Rowling was trying to cram every negative subject that she couldn't talk about in the world of Harry Potter into this book.
There's also a lot of swearing in the book. I have absolutely no problem with swearing in adult novels. Even in Young Adult novels, mild-moderate swearing is fine with me. I've read a few reviews where readers have a problem with the fact that there's any swearing at all, which I don't really understand given that this is an adult book. The swearing itself doesn't bother me, but it again feels like Rowling was just trying too hard. There's a lot of it, to the point of bordering on slightly excessive, and it just feels unnecessary in some spots.
There are also too many characters in this novel. There are too many relationships to navigate through. My guess is that Rowling was trying to underscore the point that everyone, especially in small towns is connected, and that something like a death can have a ripple effect and affect many people in a variety of different ways. I completely understand that. I don't feel it was necessary to use quite so many characters/families to make this point.
One character that I did feel drawn to, in a way, was Fats. He has this idea of being his genuine, true self, no matter what that means. I found this to be an odd concept, for a teenager that is. The teen years, and into one's 20's are meant for finding out who you truly want to be and who you really are, and it appears that Fats has done that. It is explained that he has spent a lot of time inside his own head, getting to know himself and the layers of his own personality. He doesn't completely follow through with this personal ideology of his throughout the book, but for the most part, he sticks to it. It's nice to see someone taking charge of themselves and their actions, especially a character as young as he is.
As I mentioned before, the first 50 pages of the book are great. But then as you slog through the rest, it's just depressing, vindictive, and somewhat boring. I didn't feel anything emotional at the end of the book. I won't spoil what happens, but lets just say it leaves you feeling somewhat depressed. It left me thinking "What was the point of even reading this?"
The only thing that saved this book from getting a 1 star rating was the quality of the writing. As usual, Rowling is able to compose intense, descriptive passages. For example:
"Disgust rose in Samantha like vomit. She wanted to seize the overwarm cluttered room and mash it between her hands, until the royal china, and the gas fire, and the gilt-framed pictures of Miles broke into jagged pieces; then, with the wizened and painted Maureen trapped and squalling inside the wreckage, she wanted to heave it, like a celestial shot-putter, away into the sunset. The crushed lounge and the doomed crone inside it, soared in her imagination through the heavens, plunging into the limitless ocean, leaving Samantha alone in the endless stillness of the universe." (Rowling, pg. 275)
I could see that in my mind, as I read it. Unfortunately, the writing wasn't quite enough to make me truly like this book.
I'll admit, there had to have been some expectations that filtered into my reading of this novel. I don't think there couldn't have been. But, overall, this just falls flat on it's own, J.K Rowling or not. Maybe if she had published other adult works between the Harry Potter books her readers would be more used to this serious side of her, and understand her adult works a bit more. Since the Harry Potter world was her sole focus for so long, though, I think it may be slightly too difficult for us as readers to disentangle ourselves and look at a book that contrasts so starkly with HP. It might have also helped to not have your very first book center on something as serious as politics.
Overall, I would say that this book is very well written, if boring. I would recommend checking it out from the library or borrowing it from a friend rather than buying it, though.