Book Review! The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

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As a huge Harry Potter fan, I was nervous yet excited to read other J.K. Rowling novels. I was a bit disappointed that this was so far down on my reading list, but fate stepped in & a family friend gave it to me to borrow, so that immediately bumped it to next on the list! I had somewhat high expectations but I didn’t know exactly what I was expecting, after all, this couldn’t be another Harry Potter, but I figured the writing would still be excellent, despite hearing from my mom, the person that lent me the book, and another family friend, that this novel was complete and utter rubbish. Without further ado…

Plot: No spoilers here. To spoil this book would take a post that would undo the fabric of the internet because it would be so long. There are about 8 million characters in this book, and they can be hard to keep track of. I ended the book only mixing up two couples still, which I think is pretty good, as I had everyone else, their looks and their backstory, pretty much nailed down.
At its core, the book revolves around a small town, the people that inhabit it, and what happens to them when a major member of their community suddenly passes away. This book deals with sex, drugs, death, professional malpractice, and all sorts of other sordid, depressing topics and only ends semi-happily. The stories revolve around teenagers, their parents, and their grandparents, but there are no real main characters. Each character bounces from page to page, sometimes Rowling wouldn’t full on reveal that the characters were interacting, she’d be telling the story of one character & say, for example, “A small boy watched from the corner of the room, frowning”, then in another chapter she’d say, “Robbie stood in corner, frowing” & it was up to you to realize, “Ooohh hey! He’s the small boy from that other chapter!” Not all of these references mattered, but it just solidified that they were from the same town and in each others lives, even if THEY didn’t realize it.

Thoughts: The idea that the people in the town didn’t really realize they were all connected brings me right into what I thought about the story. I think that’s really the message Rowling was trying to tell, that we’re all connected and everything we do touches the people in our community. One action or non action creates a string of events that can help or hurt someone further down the line. These people were mostly busy trying to tear each other down, they didn’t see how they were hurting their children, so the kids acted out, and didn’t realize how their actions would change the course of the futures around them. I think most of the characters thought they were doing the right thing. No one was particularly despicable to me or particularly likeable, they all just seemed like really real people. Stupid teens, gossipy old ladies, victims of unhappy lives. There were a few characters to root for, but you knew it was either going to end sadly, or way too bubble gum happy, neither a very satisfying ending, but for me, I’d choose realism any day.

One important topic I’d like to touch on was brought up by someone that read the book before me and referred to it as “pornographic” and thought the Rowling was trying WAY too hard to make the book adult, to the point that the material was disgusting & the reader could barely get through the book. Hmm…I’m not sure what other books this person is reading, but I have to disagree wholeheartedly! Yes, there’s sex, but it’s barely graphic! At most it’s like, “He got on top of her and the bed began creaking”, there’s no description of the acts or anything!
This book kept me thoroughly entertained, I couldn’t put it down. I stayed up most of a night trying to figure out what madness would happen next and what would happen to these characters. They characters themselves don’t really touch a place in my heart that made me care for them, but I guess I was looking at it from more of a writer’s perspective, like, where would Rowling take these stories next!? Yes, this is much different from Harry Potter, there is no magic here, only the cruel real world, but there is light at the end of this tunnel too. Despite the death and destruction caused by these characters, Rowling manages to show that there is good in everyone, we just have to look for it, and sometimes, help bring it out.
One other thing, the way this book is written is very visual to me, I could definitely see this as a movie & with Rowling’s history, that’s a very big possibility. It was funny though because I kept imagining certain characters as the Dursleys or students of Hogwarts, as portrayed in the Harry Potter films. Guess my imagination wasn’t working too hard on this one :/

Overall rating: B.

2 thoughts on “Book Review! The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

    • I absolutely agree. Even if the topic of the book wasn’t my favorite, I love the way Rowling writes. On the surface, this appeared to be a book about gossipy, mean, rude, small minded people, but underneath it all was still the idea that there is light in the world even amongst all this darkness. I feel like the ending was uplifting, despite the sadness it contained.


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