A Spoiler-Free Book Review: The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

A Spoiler-Free Book Review: The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

I remember being given a copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone when I was nine or ten. I took it with me to my grandmother’s house one day and she told me I shouldn’t read books about witches because witches are from the devil. (As an adult, all I hear is Bobby Boucher’s mama telling him, “Girls are the devil, Bobby Boucher!”) I grew up with Harry Potter. I went to the midnight book releases and the movie premieres, and I am the proud owner of first editions of all seven Harry Potter books and a first edition of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. I am now, have always been, and always will be a die-hard Potterhead.

With that being said, I know that J.K. Rowling had released other, non-Harry books, but I had never bothered to read them. That is, until I found a copy of The Casual Vacancy in the local Winn Dixie for $3, and thought, “Why not?”

Now, don’t be fooled. This is not a Harry Potter book. It is not even close to being a Harry Potter book. It is the exact opposite of a Harry Potter book. In fact, if there were a book written about the Muggle residents of Privet Drive, Little Whinging, Surrey (no, I did not have to look that up), The Casual Vacancy would probably be similar to that book. The Casual Vacancy details the minutiae of life in a small, quaint, seemingly innocent English village that has had a sudden and unexpected vacancy on the village council. One soon realizes, though, that the pretty potted plants and cobblestone roads cover up a dark, gossiping, occasionally hateful and spiteful interior. The blurb on the back of my copy of the book reads as follows:

“In the election for [the] successor that follows, it is clear that behind the pretty surface this is a town at war. Rich at war with poor, wives at war with husbands, teachers at war with pupils… Pagford is not what it first seems.”

As usual, Rowling does a fantastic job of developing her characters. I actually began to think of them as real people as I progressed through the book. The unfortunate side of this is that, unlike with Harry Potter, in The Casual Vacancy Rowling does not have seven books and thousands of pages to reveal to us the intricate nature of her characters’ personalities. Rather, she manages to condense an entire story, beginning-middle-end, into just over 500 pages, which causes the book to seem to drag along for the first 300 pages or so.

It took me just under four months to read this one from start to finish. Granted, I was in school for much of that time, and therefore had little time to devote to reading, but I think it’s important to note that I did manage to finish five other books in that same timeframe. I just couldn’t find myself involved in the story until about halfway through. After perusing Goodreads once I finished the book, I realized that was the case for a lot of people. Character development is great for a story but can be quite dry reading at times, even from a wonderful author like Rowling.

The story starts to pick up shortly after the halfway point, though. It took me three and a half months to get through the first 300 pages, and two weeks to get through the last 200, if that gives you any indicator of how rapidly it all begins to move once the framework has been laid. If you’re already reading this book and are wondering how you’ll ever finish it, stick it out – trust me, it will be worth it! I was so impressed with how the last 200 pages progressed that I still rate the book 4/5 stars, even though it was a chore to read at first.

My favorite character in the book (and it’s difficult to pick one, as Rowling does an excellent job of creating and developing over 20 characters!) is likely Fats Wall, son of Deputy Headmaster Colin “Cubby” Wall and school counselor Tessa Wall. His desire for authenticity is something that most teenagers find themselves wishing for at some point in their youth, and he went about his quest for authenticity so shamelessly that it became admirable, if foolhardy and reckless at times.

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2 Replies to “A Spoiler-Free Book Review: The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling”

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book when I did. I am a big fan of her writing and I knew going in it wasn’t Harry Potter but it was as great as her writing for that.

    1. There is absolutely no doubt that she is a fantastic author, I’d probably go so far as to call her the author of the generation!

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