The Casual Vacancy by J.K Rowling on its own merits, without mentioning certain other works by that author, is a nearly impossible task -- but I am going to attempt it.
In the village of Pagford, the town council is split
into two warring factions. When council member Barry Fairbrother dies,
various members of the community immediately begin scheming about who
will fill his vacant seat. In the ensuing chaos, secrets are exposed,
careers are launched and ruined, and relationships are forged and
If I had to pick just one word to describe this story, it
would be "bleak." It's a very dark book, and there's no light at the
end of the tunnel. I felt like I spent the whole book mucking around in
the seedy underbelly of human nature.
The characters were, I
think, the real strong point of the book. They were all thrown at the
reader at once, which made it a little hard to distinguish them from
each other at first, but I thought it was interesting how my perception
of some of them changed over the course of the story. The main instance
of this was Barry Fairbrother. He's not very sympathetic there at the
very beginning, but as you learn more about him, he becomes more
likable. Then again, perhaps that comes of being dead -- maybe we get
the idealized version of Barry from his friends' memories.
found that I liked the storylines featuring the teens better than the
ones with the adults -- perhaps because I read too much YA literature?
Sukhvinder was probably my favorite character in this book.
purely technical level, I found that the perspective shifted around
abruptly without any clear indicators, sometimes in mid-paragraph. I'd
be reading about Miles and Samantha, and suddenly I'd be reading about
what Howard was thinking or doing, and I'd have to backtrack to see if
Howard was there with Miles and Samantha, or whether the narration had
just wandered over to him (and it was usually the latter). I never had
this problem with (ahem) other books by this author, so I'm not sure why
it was such an issue in this one.
I also thought that the
storylines all intersected too neatly. All of the teens had parents who
were major players in the plot, and there weren't many tertiary
characters -- no casual friends on the outside edges of the story, etc.
Even the other council members were barely even mentioned. It was just
all so tidy, at least in terms of plot. There was only one small child
in the entire book and he was just there for a big dramatic episode at
the end of the story.
To add to that, I felt that Rowling tackled
too many Issues. Drugs? Check. Rape? Check. Child abuse? Check.
Political corruption? Check. Bullying? Check. Suicide? Check. Unhappy
marriages? Check. Obesity? Check. Mental illness? Check. Teen sex?
Check. Cutting? Check. Welfare reform? Check. Shall I continue? Every
character was loaded up with secrets and problems, and it just seemed
like too much. I think this could have been a shorter, simpler book with
just as much, or perhaps more, of an emotional punch.
all, I don't feel that reading this was a waste of time, but I'm not
entirely sure that I would read more adult novels by Rowling.
(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)