The Casual Vacancy

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Review #3: Fiction

The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

I really just didn’t connect with this material at all. The story was rather unremarkable to me. I was hoping for more political intrigue being a fan of politics and this seemed like it had potential with a town torn apart over a controversial upcoming vote and the member on the council who is the swing-vote dying suddenly. But really it was less about that and more about the characters, characters I just really didn’t relate to and couldn’t get interested in. First of all, there were a lot to follow, probably over 20 characters, and we’re given each of their point of view in turn throughout the text. I personally found nothing redeeming about any of them. I was hoping for at least one character that I could root for, but it never happened.

I also found the plot kind of choppy and slow in places, and a little too predictable as a whole. It’s not that the writing isn’t good; it’s J.K. Rowling — the woman knows how to tell a story. She weaved the lives of these 20+ characters together brilliantly. It was never confusing, none of the characters were under-developed, and no one’s story was left unfinished. The issue I had was that the characters were not likable. That’s not always a bad thing; sometimes the best characters are ones you love to hate. Not in this instance, however. Every character was rude, immature, vindictive, shallow, dense, weak, antagonistic — just all-around bad people. It was to the point that I wasn’t really invested in how the story played out because I didn’t care what happened to them, and thought they all deserved the awful situations they found themselves in.

To the story’s credit, it brought up a lot of issues with politics and poverty, geographical prejudices, addiction and government-funded assistance programs. It was very insightful and honest about these hardships and the role ordinary citizens as well as elected officials play in these programs and in perpetuating intolerance. I think in that aspect it was supposed to be hard to swallow and uncomfortable to read. This is what I felt the book did really well.

Overall, I didn’t relate to the characters and was expecting a different kind of story with a more politically driven plot line.

I give this 2.5 stars out of 5.

*Cover art from Amazon.com

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3 thoughts on “The Casual Vacancy

  1. I really liked this book, partly because the characters were so very flawed. I thought it weighed in really well on British Politics and the whole Big Society idea, though some of the descriptions were a bit off key. Kudos to JK Rowling for coming out with such a straight adults book as her first non-Potter novel though.

    • Others have said the same thing about enjoying the flawed characters, which I completely understand. I think I just personally didn’t relate to the specific flaws as much as others might, and it just put me off. I think also my expectations of a political novel based on descriptions I had read lead to being let down when that wasn’t necessarily the case. This was definitely an amazing debut adult novel from Rowling; it really showed her depth as an author and I think she clearly distinguished herself as being strong in any genre and for any audience. I’m looking forward to reading her other adult novels and trying to stay away from setting expectations for them.

      • I found the Cormoran Strike novels really enjoyable, I just finished The Silkworm. Yeah, I can imagine that if you were expecting a political intrigue but ended up with Midsommer Murders, minus a murder, that you might feel a little disappointed!

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