Saturday, April 27, 2013

Book Review: "The Casual Vacany"

"The Casual Vacancy" by J.K. Rowling
First published in 2012
503 pages
My rating: 3 out of 5
(image source)

I never thought J.K. Rowling's first adult book to be anything like the Harry Potter series -- which I adore and will never grow tired of -- but I didn't expect it to be the polar opposite either.

Set against a backdrop of small-town politics (snore), "A Casual Vacancy" features just about every negative, depressing plot point you can imagine: drug addiction, poverty, child abuse, infidelity, mental illness, bullying, rape, self-mutilation, death, and the list goes on... and on.

There are several main characters, and they're all horrible people -- a toxic mix of cruel, manipulative, dishonest, petty, weak, spineless, cowardly and clueless. I had a hard time muddling through the book because I did not like or sympathize with one single character. In fact, when I finally got a bit into the story, it was mostly because I wanted to see everyone get their due. Many times during the book, I thought that if the entire town of Pagford jumped off a cliff, the world would be a better place!

The Harry Potter books were inspiring, with good ultimately triumphing over evil. Friendship, forgiveness and teamwork were common themes. The only message I got from "The Casual Vacancy" was that there are no truly good people in the world. Everyone is harboring a secret, or is really just a bad, worthless or screwed-up person underneath their public veneer.

And yet. And yet this book was kind of real. Life is not a storybook romance with every problem resolving in a happy ending. Nobody is perfect -- perhaps we're not all as vile as the population of Pagford, but everyone has flaws.

However, though "A Casual Vacancy" reminded me a bit of the sick, twisted and somewhat similarly themed bestseller "Gone Girl," it was certainly not as good. The main plot of Rowling's novel revolves around the opening of a spot on the Pagford parish council following a council member's sudden death -- so boring, so irrelevant. And in "Gone Girl," my allegiance alternated between the two main characters, whereas in "A Casual Vacancy" I couldn't care less about any of those morons. When you're disgusted by everyone in the book, what motivation do you have to keep reading?

If J.K. Rowling's goal was to set herself apart from the whimsical wizarding world she created, she definitely succeeded. If she wanted to prove she knows all about heroin and morbid obesity and sexual fantasies and swear words, she succeeded. But I think she also succeeded in disappointing a lot of devout, built-in fans who would give any book of hers a try. I was reluctant to read "The Casual Vacancy" after seeing the hideous cover art and reading the snooze-fest of a blurb, and I'm not sure I'll even bother to pick up whatever she publishes next. If I want to be that depressed, I just need to turn on the Dayton evening news!


  1. i really love your book reviews! you are SO RIGHT ON in your last paragraph about her built in fan base and essentially eradicting some of them, too bad, huh??

  2. Thank you for this review! I was so looking forward to this book, but after reading your review and several similar opinions, I think I'll skip it.


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