If there’s one thing you’ll hear people say about this book, it’s that it’s far from what they expected. It’s written by J.K. Rowling, the author of the beloved Harry Potter series, and to think that it will have a touch of magic in it is normal. But to approach this book as a Harry Potter fan is probably a wrong idea.
In fact, to read this book, there’s a few things that you need to tell yourself. First, it’s an adult book, meaning, there really are some things that aren’t suitable for children. Second, it’s pointless to compare it to Harry Potter since it falls in a completely different genre and deals with completely different things. And third, if you’re expecting for any kind of fantastical element, then you’ll surely be disappointed.
Now, why am I talking about all this instead of merely talking about the book? Because I’ve read reviews and most of them are bad. And I perfectly understand why. You have to be in the mood to start reading, and to read it completely aware that you’re reading Casual Vacancy and not Harry Potter. In this aspect, Rowling tries hard to show early on that it’s an adult novel and you should expect nothing more. And when I’ve accepted that, I enjoyed the book more.
I won’t even lie. It was extremely difficult for me to immerse myself in the story. I found myself falling asleep after every two pages. I’m not proud of it, but I tried okay. 50 pages in and I was starting to find it difficult to continue. But I’m glad I did. I’m glad I wasn’t fooled by the first 100 pages, or I would have missed out on a lot.
The Casual Vacancy starts with the death of Barry Fairbrother. And with his death, his position at the Parish Council becomes vacant. And with this death, the story explores the lives of individuals and how their lives are affected by Barry’s death. From close friends, to family, to political rivals and even to random citizens of the little town called Pagford.
J.K. Rowling is incredibly masterful at creating complex characters and never will you find a two-dimensional character in her stories. Her heroes aren’t just heroes. In no way are they perfect, and that simply makes them more human. There are tons, TONS, of characters in this novel and all of them are incredibly fleshed out. At first, each character gets a chapter, gets their own indirect introduction. And once you’ve known them enough, interactions between each one of them are more frequent, but you’ll never get confused in following each flow of thought.
There are way too many annoying characters. They sometimes make me want to hurl the book across the room. But nevertheless, you still see that they’re vile for a reason. They’re spiteful not because they want to be spiteful. It’s because Rowling spends time with these characters that you see that despite their annoying personalities, they are like that for a reason.
In no way is this novel perfect. But it’s interesting enough to keep me reading way past my bedtime, which I have lately found hard to do when reading a book. Once the conflicts arise and more problems pile up, you get invested in these characters. You love some, you hate some. So no matter how you find some characters spiteful, you keep on reading anyway.
This novel tackles a wide range of themes. Of dysfunctional families, of teenage worries, of unhappy marriages, of psychological disorders, of insecurities, of death, of drug abuse, of unsafe sex, of ruined friendships, of bullying, of love, of hope, and tons of other things that J.K. Rowling only skillfully molds into one coherent story.
This novel starts with death and ends with death. Each character experiences a blow at one point in their stories and how they face their personal challenges determine how they end up in the story. There are tons of surprises like how seemingly good characters follow a road to nowhere, and those unforgivable ones who commit foolish mistakes left and right somehow redeem themselves. And you’ll be surprised at the people who step out of their shell and rise beautifully on certain situations. It’s fulfilling to see these characters find their fitting place. It’s not a happy ending, but it’s at least safe to say that it’s not yet the ending for most of them.