The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling
As promised, the next book I read and will be blogging about is J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy. This novel, Rowling’s first after the Harry Potter series, is categorized as adult fiction. And adult fiction it is. You won’t find any wizards, unicorns or goblin banking systems in this book. Instead, you’ll find the quiet town of Pagford left in turmoil after one of its town councilors dies suddenly of a brain aneurism leaving a seat open on the council.
Right before his death, Barry Fairbrother was working to convince the town council to keep a part of town known as “The Fields” a part of Pagford instead of reconfiguring the town boundaries and kicking the Fields to the neighboring town of Yarvil. Those opposed to keeping the Fields as part of Pagford do so because they view the Fields only as an area of poverty, a blight on the face of Pagford. Barry Fairbrother sees the Fields remaining a part of Pagford as an opportunity for its people to possibly have a better life. He grew up in The Fields and benefited from the school system in Pagford, working his way up to the life he had with his wife and children before his death.
With a seat open on the council, those opposed to the fields see this as an opportunity to rid the town of the Fields for good, while those who were friends of Fairbrother want to seize the opportunity to continue his work. What ensues is a nasty election where individual characters’ stories are interwoven together in this character-driven drama.
So here’s the thing about this novel. Before you pick it up, you should actually read the back of the book description and honestly ask yourself “does this novel sound like something that I would enjoy?” Try and forget that you know it’s by J.K. Rowling, beloved Harry Potter author. Try and forget the slight depression you experienced after finishing The Deathly Hallows and the desperate desire for J.K. Rowling to write more in the Harry Potter series. Why should you forget these things? Because it isn’t Harry Potter. And if, when you read the back of the book and it doesn’t sound like anything that would normally appeal to you, then chances are the fact that it is written by J.K. Rowling won’t change that and you probably won’t enjoy it.
Did I enjoy the book? Yes, mostly. I was guilty, however, of doing everything I told you not to do in the previous paragraph. I did read it simply because it was J.K. Rowling and didn’t put much thought into it’s subject matter. Fortunately, it worked out for me. I can definitely see how others would have been disappointed with it. You will remember though, if you read my prior blog posts, that it took me a while to read The Casual Vacancy. This is where I have to admit that it took me a while to really get into it. The main flaw I found with Rowling’s novel was I felt as though she got bogged down in a lot of detailed descriptions that at times, took away from the flow of the book. I found myself forgetting which character was which, making it difficult to pick up the book if I hadn’t read it for a few days. Previously, Rowling had seven novels to tell one huge story. I think she might’ve had some trouble narrowing her thoughts down into what became The Casual Vacancy. After reading the book, I read a review done by the Wall Street Journal that summed up my thoughts pretty nicely: “Once you get your Mileses and Simonses straight and events begin to unfurl, it becomes a positively propulsive read.” Once I really had a grasp on the characters, I found myself really looking for the time to read this book. I stayed up way past my bedtime in order to finish the last 70 pages or so.
Earlier in this post, I stated that this was a character-drama. I should probably put some emphasis on the word drama. This isn’t really a happy book. It has its moments of comedic relief, but it’s characters are realistic and so are their problems. And just because the book has an ending, that doesn’t mean it is a happy one.
Did you read J.K. Rowling’s first book after Potter? If you did, I’d love to hear what your thoughts were (especially if you were a huge Harry Potter fan).