The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I had heard several oft repeated comments on this book before I read it, some were true and some were exaggerated.
I had heard people say they couldn't believe this was the same author who wrote the Harry Potter books. This is an exaggeration. Rowling has studied people in depth, she knows their every nuance and she can write description of people going about their lives better than any other author I've read. This is her gift, and it's on display at several points in The Casual Vacancy.
I had heard people say that not everyone hates their parents and resents their kids as depicted in the novel. This is of course true, but I don't remember Rowling ever saying "This book represents the world entire, every person alive is modeled on these characters." She's writing about a set of people, and these are issues they are dealing with. It's a story, not a bible.
I had heard people say 'Rhianna's "Umbrella", really???' This is true.
Rowling paints the story of small town England with a heavy brush, too often blurring the lines. On page one there's a death and from that point until about 50 percent nothing happens. I found myself wondering why I was still reading the book. Moments of characterization were vivid, such as the social worker's first visit to Krystal's house, but over all the book lagged with a lack of likeable characters. The world of Harry Potter was easier, there was a discernible villain and hero. In this book there are no heroes, and it could be argued every single character was the villain.
There's a line between writing people as flawed individuals and writing people as their flaws that Rowling crosses. These flaws take over the morality of the characters, leaving you instead of remembering their names or personalities, remembering "The One with OCD" "The One Who's abusive", etc.
The book picks up in the second half where a conspiracy develops that carries the book through to it's over-dramatic end. Again the heavy hand is used, hammering home the message unnecessarily.
I had heard the only likeable character in the book was the toddler. I would argue he's more of a device than a character, and that Andrew is one of the few likeable characters, Mary being the only possible other.
I'm glad I read the book to form my own opinion, but the novel is unsatisfying and I can't see anyone giving this book more than three stars.
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