Friday, March 21, 2014

The Casual Vacancy

Title: The Casual Vacancy
Author: J. K. Rowling.
Stars: 3.5
Less-Than-500-Word Review in Short:  Rowing flexes her muscles of character development and profanity in this nitty-gritty social class commentary
"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?"

I Say:  I was super excited to read this book, because, hey, it's Rowling. I've been missing her ever since Harry Potter ended and I was really interested to see how she would write a "grown-up" book.

My initial reaction was contempt. Rowling's writing was the author equivalent of a rebellious preacher's kid. It was like after being trapped for so long in clean, virtuous YA fiction, she vomited profanity and gratuitous sexual comments just because she could. All of her characters were different arrangements of selfishness and overactive libidos, caught up in small town drama. I felt this way for about 85% of the book.

But...the writing itself is kind of fantastic, and the story is expertly crafted. Each character is so complex and authentic {right, Fats?} that you feel as if they MUST exist. Rowling writes them until they climb out of the pages and walk around.

I've heard a lot of complaints that none of the characters are likeable, but all of these comments came from people who didn't finish the book. Enough said about that. The characters are so real that you must treat them like real people:  don't judge them til you know them.

As we know from "Harry Potter," Rowling is a master of setting story gears to turn neatly in place. She ties her loose ends together, and you can watch in relaxed delight as the story lines weave seamlessly in and out of each other.

The book IS pretty much one long social commentary, so if you're not into that, this book is not for you. I found it interesting though, and I like to speculate on what Rowling is really saying. What IS the moral of this multi-faceted story? I have some theories, and I like them.

I Liked
- character development
- tight plot

I Didn't Like
- gratuitous profanity
- very slow-moving

R-rated. Probably the most profanity I've ever read in a book, along with relatively graphic drug use and sex (including rape)



  1. I think I agree with your assessment. It's a book with a point, a message. In an interview I heard she said the basic point of the book is "what to do about Krystal?". How we treat the poor and needed and the cycle that's hard to break out of.

    I've never read Harry Potter so I had no history with Rowling to go with for Vacancy but I found myself reading right to the end. And I have an issue with people saying characters aren't' likeable as if that's the main purpose of a book. A lot of characters in movies aren't likeable if you really think about it. Like you said the characters in this book are real, dealing with real issues and that's the point.

  2. You can also try The Cuckoo's Calling. She wrote it under a pseudonym

  3. Yeah, Robert Galbraith or something, right? :) It's on my very long list. Have you read it?

    1. Yes I have. It's about a detective looking into the suicide of a model. Very different from Vacancy. I thought it was okay, well written but not on par with established writers of the genre. I think it lacks a bit of thrill but maybe that's just the difference between British and North American writers. For me it's a book I enjoyed but don't think I'll ever reread it (which says something for me).

    2. Just found out Rowling wrote a new novel under the Galbraith pseudonym called The Silkworm