It was a strange feeling to be reading a book by J.K. Rowling that wasn't Harry Potter. My expectations weren't high but they weren't low either. I think it is safe to say I view J.K. Rowling as on of my favorite authors. Her Harry Potter books have really struck a chord with me and I know they will remain with me until the day I die. That being said, I was eager to read her new book and see what other stories she had to tell but I also wasn't dying to read her new book. In conclusion, The Casual Vacancy was just another book on my bookshelf. Sure when I picked it up I was well aware that I was now about to read a book by the renowned author J.K. Rowling but once I began reading, all of that didn't matter that much and didn't change the way I read the book. While I very much compared the book to Harry Potter, as you will read in this review, Harry Potter did not change my reading of this book in any way.
For starters, I was actually irked by this book before I even saw the front cover. It wasn't so much that I was bothered that J.K. Rowling wasn't writing another Harry Potter book because I don't care what she does either way. What bothered me was the publicity that surrounded the book. It was advertised as "J.K. Rowling's new book for adults!" This phrase annoys me to the core. First off, it is clear that many "sophisticated" readers will take this as "finally, a book I can actually take seriously by J.K. Rowling" in which is absolute nonsense. Another bit of nonsense is that it seems to disregard Harry Potter entirely. Harry Potter is just as good for adults as it is for children. If anything, the book should have been advertised as containing explicit content instead of subliminally insulting J.K. Rowling's other works. My fear was that J.K. Rowling would overdo the "adult" content and have so much of it that the book would come off forced and annoying. Fortunately, that did not occur. The explicit stuff came off as natural and didn't really bother me one way or another.
The Casual Vacancy revolves around a small town where a beloved citizen named Barry Fairbrother dies, leaving a seat open on the town council. Immediately the race is on to see who can get enough votes to take his seat. The book revolves around the candidates and their families and citizens of the town.
I first want to comment on J.K. Rowling's writing style. Forgetting the story for a moment, I can safely say that as I read this book I felt as if I were still reading Harry Potter. I wasn't even thinking about it and then suddenly I saw familiar patterns of writing. Rowling's writing has not changed a bit from book to book. I want to say I am extremely impressed but also very pleased because this shows that it wasn't her writing that gave this book the "adult" sticker but rather the content did that. This shows readers the levels in which Rowling can reach her audience, whether it be classified as an "adult" novel or as a young adult novel.
Secondly, while Rowling proves that her understanding of the human psych is grade A, her characters in this novel are just plain awful. I don't mean to say that she did a poor job. What I mean to say is that every character is a jerk and the only decent one is Barry who died in the beginning! The characters were all freakishly selfish. That is the only way I can describe them. As I read the book, I wondered if any of the characters would ever change and the truth is, they didn't. Sure there was a bit of minor change toward the end but overall, none of the characters truly developed which was a big disappointment.
As a Christian reader, I was hesitant to bring up my faith in this review since religion is hardly mentioned in this novel at all. Of course, in Harry Potter we find that religion is never mentioned either yet the stories are reeking with spiritual metaphors and represent Harry as a Christ figure. It was clear to me as I read this book that none of these characters were putting their faith in God but only putting faith in themselves and their desires. They didn't think, only acted upon what they wanted. I have found a few reviews of this book online and have saved them but was particular about not reading them before I wrote this review so that I could give my own opinion and not fabricate one by accident. However, I briefly glanced over one and saw something that very much supported my thoughts about religion in this novel. B. Waisanen states, "Rowling is determined to place the central Christian message in her
books. And yet in this one, the message is so….vacant. I believe
Rowling is, in her under-the-watchful-eyes-of-dragons way, showing us
what happens when Christ is absent. In the Potter books, we have a Christ figure in Harry. He lives, and
therefore the world is saved. In The Casual Vacancy, Christ is absent;
Barry Fairbrother, the book’s Christ figure, is dead. He has been
removed from influence on society, and the vices, so abundant within
the world, wreak havoc." In the end, there was nothing to be learned from these characters besides to do the exact opposite of what they did. I wouldn't recommend naming any of the characters as your fictional role model. However, if Rowling's intention was the same as what Waisanen stated, that makes me a bit happier about the book itself.
Finally, let me quickly talk about the book's ending. Overall, I liked it. It was tragic but also satisfying. The book came in full circle in a sense. The ending also seemed to wake up the characters a bit. The book seemed to imply that once the reader finished, things were going to get better in the small little town. Or at least, that is my hope.
The Casual Vacancy was just another read for me. It didn't stand out nor was it a total let down of a story. It was just an average read and that is why I am giving it 3 out of 5 stars. I liked it. I liked Rowling's writing and the story kept me interested but the characters were just terrible people and by the end of the book I just didn't care about them and wanted to never read about them again.