Obviously, there was going to be a lot of interest in whatever JK Rowling wrote after her wildly successful “Harry Potter” series. The fact that she chose to write an adult novel, rather than a YA novel, probably came as a surprise to many.
There are many people who don’t like the book based solely on the fact that it isn’t about Harry Potter. Such is the trick of creating such a big phenomenon. It is hard to escape it.
But, while I liked the first Harry Potter, I never got into the others, so I picked up “The Casual Vacancy” planning to read it without the veil of a much beloved series before my eyes.
In “The Casual Vacancy,” Barry Fairweather dies in the first chapter. He is a councilman in a small British town that has been torn apart by a fight over an annexed area called The Fields. His death leaves an open spot on the council and the rest of the novel is about the people fighting over how the city and the council should be run, and the views of their high school sons and daughters about the goings on around them.
Perhaps part of the problem in the book is that there is no central hero. Barry, who is likeable for the most part, is dead. His wife is a small secondary character. His children’s point-of-views are never seen. And then there are dozens of other characters with parts to play on the council chessboard. Most are unlikeable, racist, cruel and so blinded by their own ambition, or leaning, that they do not care what they do to other people, even their own families. There is no character to root for.
The other problem with the book is that it is over 500 pages long and honestly, very little happens in it. It is more a character study than a novel. Rolling aimlessly toward… something. It picks up a bit toward the end when things come to a head and lives are changed, but by that point I found myself rather exhausted by the exercise of slogging through.
There is one thing that cannot be denied, JK Rowling is a beautiful writer. She writes certain turns of phrase and creates images that are haunting. And if you like that kind of writing, beautiful but with little purpose, then the book has its merits. But I cannot give it more than 2.5 stars out of 5.
The Casual Vacancy
By: JK Rowling
Price: $35.00 hardcover/
$14.99 Kindle & Nook