Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

I should start by stating how much I enjoyed the Harry Potter book series. I have friends to this day that I made because of mutual love for Harry Potter. I was at the midnight book releases. I have read many of the books multiple times. I know the world. I know the characters and a little part of my heart ached whenever the seventh book came to a close. J.K. Rowling, in my mind, was an icon of the fantasy genre and was able to blend her story and her writing to such a varied audience that I praised her on so many occasions.

Casual Vacancy is, notably, an adult novel. She made that very clear. Having finished the book, it is very clear that she intended it to be an adult novel. The themes in this book are of a very adult nature. There were times, in fact, that I cringed and rushed through pages because the actions taking place made me uncomfortable.

I won’t rehash all the criticism that Rowling has endured regarding her integrity, more or less. I’m not going to quote her interview where she told the world she was not a babysitter. If you would like to read about this book showing a lack of responsibility toward her young readers there are countless accounts all over the internet. It’s not that I don’t think those criticisms are valid, they just aren’t about the book. And I also can understand Rowling feeling a need to prove herself as more than just the author of Harry Potter.

That being said, I don’t think she needed to prove herself with quite so much vigor. I don’t think I’ve ever read f*ck so many times in my entire life. And, perhaps I am alone in this, but until reading her account of Howard Mollison I never once considered a man’s penis when I saw his large belly hanging low over his belt. Now, thank you very much, I will forever consider it.

The characters were believable. Their stories were intricately woven and well-executed. It gave a grim depiction of small-town politics, but I was able to conceive its validity. I had trouble with the reality of all those extremely dysfunctional families being so intertwined, but misery does love company. The fact that I didn’t like the book had much less to do with her story-telling than with the story she chose to tell. I couldn’t find any one character that I truly felt inclined to wish well. Not even the deceased Barry Fairbrother with whom I was actually angry with for dying.

The characters were all defective which is real life, but that’s not why I read books. If I wanted to remind myself how damaged the world is then I’ll watch the news. I read to escape from the real world and Rowling, in depicting such flawed characters, just transported me to another real world where lives are falling apart and everyone is helpless to help anyone including themselves.

I couldn’t help but feel her try to pull out some moral ending. The change in Sukhvinder and the parallel between her and Krystal. It was an interesting concept to make the heroine of your story the daughter of a junkie who has somehow been thrust into a private school. And I felt pity for Krystal, but I didn’t find myself wanting her to win. Her end was unfortunate, but little more than that. It wasn’t the shock that perhaps Rowling intended.

I really wanted to like this book, but I didn’t enjoy it from the start. The only reason I finished the book was almost a tribute to the Harry Potter series. I’m sure if she publishes another book, it will still be a success. People will continue to read the author of Harry Potter, but I for one will read the reviews before I turn the first page. And will approach all future Rowling books with caution.

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4 thoughts on “Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

  1. I’m still mulling over whether to buy this book. I’ve seen a few excerpts and, while I’m not entirely sure of the context, it definitely seemed like she was trying a little TOO hard to make this an “adult” book, as you say. I’m not really bothered by these things, but they need to make sense within the story and with the writing style and not be gratuitous, and I’m not sure which is true in this case.

    It’s strange because I really do commend JK Rowling for stepping out of the Harry Potter “box,” but at the same time all the things I really loved about her writing don’t seem to lend themselves to such a “realistic” story. When I first heard the synopsis I was expecting a story set in the real world but featuring a cast of eccentrics, sort of like Privet Drive without the hidden magic, more like the crazy cat lady instead of the junkie next door. I definitely think I enjoy flawed characters and “grim” stories more than you do, but I’m just not sure if I’ll enjoy it from JK Rowling.

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