Book: The Casual Vacancy

"The Casual Vacancy"

When Barry Fairbrother dies in his early forties, the town of Pagford is left in shock.

Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, but what lies behind the pretty façade is a town at war.

Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils…Pagford is not what it first seems.

And the empty seat left by Barry on the parish council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen. Who will triumph in an election fraught with passion, duplicity and unexpected revelations?

When I started reading The Casual Vacancy, I really didn’t know what to expect. To date, we’ve only ever been exposed to Rowling’s Harry Potter world–and even when the stories are not about Harry, there’s still a sense of familiarity–as was the case of the book of folklore, and the two comic relief “reference” books. With this book though, we quite completely depart the world of wizards and witches. And what we have is chaos.

Now, J K Rowling is a wonderful writer–seven Harry Potter books and a great editing team have done wonders for her skill. And it shows in The Casual Vacancy. Rowling is still an amazing storyteller. Except she made one mistake–she forgot to include a main character.

Following the lives of the citizens of Pagford, you don’t know who to root for–if you’re supposed to root for anyone at all. Everyone is flawed, everyone is conflicted–and you can really see that Rowling is great at building characters that are not just two-dimensional. But what do you do with a host of characters, an interesting premise–but no solid flow as to where the book is supposed to go? We go back to chaos.

Everyone who saw me reading the book has been asking if it’s any good. And up until I finished the book, my answer was always: “it’s disappointing, so far.” Which is not how I saw myself describing a Rowling book after Harry Potter. I wasn’t expecting a lot–but I did have at least a little expectation. And The Casual Vacancy definitely did not meet it.

Except– After I put the book down, I realized that I did like the book. I liked the people in Pagford, and I like the story Rowling was trying to tell–I just didn’t like the way she was telling it because it was so different from how she told the story of Harry Potter and the wizarding world’s war against evil. As I already mentioned, Rowling’s characters are all fully realized, and you can never really pinpoint who the villains are. And while there are a few characters you’re bound to dislike immensely, on a whole, you can also see how they turned out the way they did.

The Casual Vacancy is currently getting mixed reviews. I’m going to go ahead and say I’m on the side that liked the book. But, I feel, it’s going to take time–a lot of time–before people truly appreciate what a gem The Casual Vacancy is.

I just wish that Rowling would go back to having a main character (or two) in her next book. It’s easier to follow a story that way.

Before I go though, let’s see what other people have said about the book:
Nose in a Book
Justin’s Book Blog
YouTube Review: CaptainEmbro

5 thoughts on “Book: The Casual Vacancy

  1. Hmm, interesting to see your thoughts on the lack of a protagonist. Ensemble-style casts do make this a challenge, I think. I’m currently reading Sarah Waters’s The Little Stranger, and I’m finding the same issue. It’s a wonderful book, but I’m not sure who I’m meant to be siding with.

    That said, I look forward to having a read of The Casual Vacancy at some point!

    • I don’t think it’s so much a problem with the ensemble cast, as it is about Rowling’s lack of story flow though. If the ensemble cast had been working on the same goal, it could’ve worked. But everyone in the Casual Vacancy has their own agenda, their own goals–and that’s what, in my opinion, caused the problem.

      With a host of fully-realized characters, there was no way she could’ve controlled where the story was going–unless she shaved off a few of them, and kept the ones that would help her tell the story more… straightforwardly.

      Oh, and I’m looking forward to read your reaction to The Casual Vacancy when you’ve finally read it. 🙂

  2. Pingback: Book: Gone | taking a break

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