Review: The Casual Vacancy

The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling (2012)

Occasionally, I get the odd pang of sympathy for the Justin Biebers of the world.  These kids get shackled to their tween audiences for ever and ever.  Any deviation from their shiny, wholesome image incurs the wrath of an army of tearful twelve year-olds and scandalised mothers.  I mean look at Miley Cyrus – apparently some tattoos and a reverse mullet are not suitable for a Disney Princess.  In some ways, I don’t blame her.  Although, I probably would have gone for the older, more attractive Hemsworth brother.

Okay, so this segue is quickly becoming irrelevant.  Let’s jump straight into it.  I’m talking about The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling.  It’s her first novel for adults. I can promise you that it’s a classier way of branching out than doing a Miley Cyrus (not that the Vatican would agree).

As I began to read, I was well-aware that I’m pre-disposed to like anything Rowling writes. I will buy anything she produces out of sheer love and devotion.  So I tried to progress with an open (and honest) mind.  The story opens with the sudden death of Barry Fairbrother,  parish councillor for the village of Pangford.  Against the backdrop of this casual vacancy, we’re introduced to a number of interrelated stories, starring a myriad of colourful characters. Pangford’s citizens certainly don’t reflect humanity at its finest, but they do reflect real life in all its uncomfortable  gritty glory.  Gossip, back-stabbing and small-town drama slowly spirals into tragedy and a symmetrical conclusion that was not unsatisfying, but certainly left me very reflective.This novel is wildly different from the Harry Potters series but die-hard fans will recognise Rowling’s familiar voice shining through.  She’s clearly writing what she knows and this lends a clear sense of authenticity to the story.

Despite all this, The Casual Vacancy may not be for everyone.  It’s fairly lengthy (about 500 pages) and I didn’t get into it properly until past the half-way mark.  The plot unfolds very, very gradually.  The somewhat sluggish pace is compounded by the fact that we are following 10-15 characters throughout.  It takes a while to get everyone introduced and this gets confusing at times – particularly if you’re only reading in short sittings.

But if you do persist, The Casual Vacancy turns out to be a thoroughly enjoyable read.  One of the most impressive things for me is how Rowling manages to capture the voices of so many different characters and to tie their stories together in a way that is entertaining and thought-provoking.  You get an intriguing a snapshot of people from many different walks of life – something commendable on Rowling’s part.

Many have been commenting ‘oh people just buy it because it’s J.K. Rowling’ or ‘why on earth does she want to keep publishing after Harry Potter?’ I don’t think either of those criticisms are particularly relevant.  Rowling has established herself as the author of a generation and now she has the good fortune to be able to write for pleasure.  She doesn’t have a reputation to build or a living to earn.  I don’t think we need the Casual Vacancy to be the Harry Potter’s equal.  It’s just a new and exciting chapter in Rowling’s career – one that hopefully indicates this fabulous writer is far from done.

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