Author: J.K. Rowling
Genre: General Fiction
Number of Pages: 503
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
*Scroll down to see the second review!
It was a big deal when J.K. Rowling announced that she had written another book, and more specifically, a book that wasn’t part of her established Harry Potter series. Expectations were very high given the fact that she had already written what is arguably the most popular book series in the world. Though people expected another fantasy novel, The Casual Vacancy is completely different from HP in so many ways, which is probably the most important thing all should realize before picking it up. If you start this book expecting spells, Hogwarts or Quidditch matches, you will end up disappointed. On the other hand, if you go into it with an open mind, the experience will render itself much more enjoyable.
The Casual Vacancy is a character-driven book that follows the lives of various citizens of a British town called Pagford. One of the members on the Pagford Council dies of a sudden brain aneurysm, which causes a great deal of sadness in the town. Even so, the sudden death leaves an open seat on the council, which, for many townspeople, presents an even larger dilemma. The book follows the lives of the characters – from young rebellious teenagers to snobby old-time Pagfordians – and even documents those citizens new to the town. The Casual Vacancy provides an entertaining story of character interaction, the daily struggle of life, and electoral issues present in today’s world.
Though the book is overall a good one, the characters are so plentiful that at the beginning it can be very difficult to keep track of them and the ways in which they are all related. As a result, immediate engagement is difficult to reach with this novel. However, once you know all the characters, everything suddenly becomes much more interesting. Another thing to bear in mind is that The Casual Vacancy is targeted towards adults, and possibly older teens, due to the mature and disturbing nature of some of Rowling’s major themes. Overall, fans of J.K. Rowling might like to see this new side of her writing, yet even those who were previously not fans of her previous works might enjoy this take on the British middle class and its resultant society.
Review by Caitlin Mason, A&S '16
When J.K. Rowling announced she was publishing a new book, Harry Potter fans everywhere rejoiced. However, The Casual Vacancy was not exactly what many Potterheads were hoping for. Rowling completely changed genres – going from fantasy to reality. Many of the same people who enjoyed Harry Potter may not like this book, just because it is not the same genre. But there are certainly exceptions to the rule. I am a huge Harry Potter fan and I loved The Casual Vacancy. It is the perfect book for the Harry Potter fans that have completed their adolescence and are ready to experience a more mature novel. The book got a lot of hate because it is just not Harry Potter; it is completely different. J.K. Rowling tackled something close to home, as Casual Vacancy in some ways is almost an expose on how she herself was brought up.
The Casual Vacancy takes place in a tiny English town called Pagford. The plot revolves around the death of Barry Fairbrother and the townspeople’s search for a candidate to take over his position on the town council. Although there are a lot of characters, J.K. Rowling does a good job of fully developing her cast. All the characters have a connection to someone running for council, which allows the reader to see why each candidate potentially deserves the position from all perspectives. These characters are three-dimensional; they have flaws and are not always very likable, but this makes them even more complex, real, and relatable. The book recounts each character’s struggles with family, school, and teenage rebellion – even romance. Rowling also tackles serious issues like drug and child abuse.
At first the book was difficult to get into; the beginning was slow and mostly consisted of introducing all the characters. Once I got into it, the last 300 pages or so went very quickly. I enjoyed getting the insight to how small town governments in England work as it is very different from America. I loved the classic Rowling style – she doesn’t fail to integrate her humor within the pages. Some readers have complained about the vulgar language in this book, which is probably the reason it is tagged as “J.K. Rowling’s first novel for adults,” but that language is an effective way to portray real life and the culture of the characters.
As she did with the Harry Potter series, Rowling triggers emotions and knows how to open up a reader’s heart to otherwise unlovable characters. I definitely recommend this brilliant book and I am looking forward to whatever other worlds Rowling has up her creative sleeve.
Review by Colleen Brady, A&S '16