Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Casual Vacancy

by J.K. Rowling
Published: Little Brown, 2012
Pages: 512

When councilman Barry Fairbrother dies unexpectedly, he leaves behind an entire town that feels his loss in some way, whether it's a missing father, friend, mentor or an open seat on the local government.  The town of Pagford copes with his death the only way they know how, launching into a war that can only be seen if you really pay attention.  What can be gained from Barry's death, only the town can answer that question.

I tried to remember going into this book that Hogwarts would not appear anywhere, nor would Harry come walking down the streets of Pagford or Yarville.  It seems incredible that the same person wrote both this book and the Harry Potter series, they couldn't be more different.  I'm glad of that actually; this book is quite good.

There is a wide variety of characters in this book, ranging from despicable and loathsome to victims of circumstance. There are mothers who are too sweet for their own good, husbands that are too concerned with themselves to notice change, and teens that cause more damage than they realize with their cruel words.  All of these characters, even the worst are incredibly well developed.  There's a reason I felt anger at Andrew's father and sympathy and hope for Krystal.  Rowling's characters are well thought out and well rounded, I'm not sure there is one character in this book that isn't multidimensional. We see Pat Mollison for maybe 10 pages and get an understanding of her character and her motives better than some characters that take 300 pages to develop.

I thought the pacing of this book was a little inconsistent, though.  There were spots in the book that I really didn't care about, not because it wasn't well written, but because I cared about other characters more than the one's in those situations.  For me, the last 50 pages or so had the most momentum.  I realize that everything was building up to these scenes, hence the idea of a climax.  I thought the story end very well, however unsatisfied I was by it.

J.K. Rowling knows how to slowly suck you into a story and its characters and then tear it away from you. There is just so must realism in this story that it makes it painful to read sometimes.  There is no embellished happy endings for people who obviously can't have happy endings no matter how hard they try, and sometimes that's exactly how the real world works.  Some of the characters are stuck in an endless cycle of uncontrollable circumstances, they do their best to live the only way they know how.

If you are looking for a lighthearted, fun read go elsewhere.

Stars: 3/5


"Rowling knows how to write a twisty, involving plot...She is clearly a skilled writer."
         -- The Huffington Post

"This book represents a truckload of shrewdness....There were sentences I underlined for the sheer purpose of figuring out how English words could be combined so delightfully....genuinely moving."
        -- Washington Post

"The Casual Vacancy is a complete joy to read....a stunning, brilliant, outrageously gripping and entertaining evocation of British society today."
        -- The Mirror (UK)

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