Let's preface my review with a little background on my J.K. Rowling experiences and a quick synopsis of the book.
First of all, I just began my Harry Potter (HP) experience about six months ago. When HP first came out, I was in high school. For one, fantasy books did not interest me during my high school years. I pretty much stuck to historical fiction or psychologically-based books and fantasy was definitely near the bottom of my preference list. Also, the first HP book was about 11 year olds and at the time, I didn't feel I could relate to it very much (instead I waited till I was almost 26 to relate to them, haha). My mom and brother always loved the HP books and drug me to a couple of the movies but, even those, did not excite me very much.
Then... I became interested. I heard so much about the series and the depth to J.K. Rowling's writing that I decided to see what all the hype was about. The last few months, I have gathered my brother's books out of storage and began to read them in between other books. I have thoroughly enjoyed the HP series (I've read three of the seven books so far) and I'm beginning to appreciate what all of the credit Rowling received for her series.
I was excited when I learned that J.K. Rowling had a new book coming out and I was curious about her new "adult" book. Since I am not a long-time HP fan and I didn't plan to compare this book to her previous ones, I thought I could give it a fair chance and couldn't wait to start reading it.
This is the description that amazon.com (where I first read about The Casual Vacancy) has for this book:
When Barry Fairbrother dies unexpectedly in his early forties, the little 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 town’s 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? Blackly comic, thought-provoking and constantly surprising, The Casual Vacancy is J.K. Rowling’s first novel for adults.
Let's begin with the first statement that comes to mind when asked about this book.
It just didn't interest me very much.
The book was basically about small-town politics and peoples' lives who, honestly, did not enjoy their lives very much. It seems like every character in the book is miserable and has something wrong with their life.
To Rowling's credit, the characters were very well developed. This should be the case, though, since the first 60 pages were character introductions. I have learned through my literary experience as well as three years in British schooling that oftentimes, British authors are a little slow to start. I give her the benefit-of-the-doubt that she is a British author and even the first HP book took a little time to present the authors. But, there were SO many characters. By the time I got through the introductions of all of the characters, I had to go back and try to remember how each one fit into the story. After I finally mapped out each one's relationship to the others, I was actually quit invested in their lives. I wanted to know what would happen next and how each person's lives affected the others. I wouldn't say that I couldn't put the book down, but I did want to know what happened next.
Despite the well-developed characters, there was not much else that I could vouch for in this book. The book review does not present it the way the book reads. I'm not sure exactly what I was expecting from the story based on the review, but what I read was definitely not that. The novel was depressing throughout and it seemed to focus on the most negative attributes of each character.
Though the end may have been an attempt to wrap up the story and teach people to appreciate their lives, it was an ill-fated attempt. I appreciate that the story was about the negative aspects of the townspeople and the political setting helped bring out those personality flaws, but I felt as though Rowling was teetering a fine line between realistic and unrealistic characters. Some of the characters seemed raw and as a reader, I could see that some of people's biggest flaws (the ones they don't want to admit to) were presented in the story. What I don't see as realistic were all of the lengths that people in the story went to to try and get back at others in the town. It presented the town as one filled with terrible people who all have something awful to hide.
As I said before, this book was negative and after I finished reading it, I don't think I felt a sense of completion like I had hoped.