A couple of months ago I read JK Rowling's The Casual Vacancy. As a big Harry Potter fan, I was curious to see what else she could produce and whether it would live up to the expectations I held after her previous success.
Sadly, for me, it didn't. Whilst I can intellectually see what Rowling was trying to achieve, the narrative pace was just too slow for me. I was reading the book because I had to read the book, and it felt like pulling teeth. Until the end, that is, when all of a sudden I found that I had been hooked and couldn't put it down until I had finished it. Did that end make up for the first 3/4 of the book that was as dull as staring at a brick wall? Not for me.
The story is based around the small town of Pagford in rural England. When one of the members of the Parish Council, Barry Fairbrother, passes away local politics becomes nasty as a local election is called to see who will take the position. Factions form according to whether candidates are supporters of or detractors from the local housing estate "The Fields".
We see this drama unfold through the eyes of a host a characters from a range of ages, backgrounds and political views. There is Krystal, a young girl being raised by a drug addict mother in The Fields, trying to keep her family together. Tessa, the school counsellor who has to act as a barrier between her teenage son and her husband, also the Principal of the local High School. Parminder Jawanda, a local doctor who sits on the Parish Council, supports The Fields and is in love with Barry Fairbrother.
That is only to name three of the many characters JK Rowling has filled her book with. I found that with so many characters, the bulk of the first half of the book was spent just introducing them and it became very difficult to remember who everyone was and how they were all related to each other. This distracted from what else might have been going on in the early parts of the story, although to be fair from I could detect it wasn't much.
Read on for more of the review.
I read The Casual Vacancy as part of an online book club that I participate in and everyone seemed to have a similar response to the book as I did.
Everyone found that they had to push their way through most of the book and most people found that their attention was finally hooked toward the end of the book when all the threads of the story came together for the final tragedy.
It wasn't until we all started discussing the book, however, that I really began to appreciate just how much JK Rowling had managed to cover in The Casual Vacancy. She dealt with so many social, economic and moral issues of relevance to everyone in a first world country that it made it even more of a shame that the book was so uninteresting. I say this because the more that we discussed the book, the more issues we discovered that the book had got us thinking about; issues such as social services, housing, drug and alcohol rehabilition, parenting and relationships.
So, I propose to do something a little different for the review of The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling. I am going to post some of the discussions we has a book club, to give you some idea of how we collectively responded to the story.
Where there are spoilers, it will of course be identified, and I will be changing some things to protect my friend's privacy.
I understand that for a lot of people these discussions will not be relevant unless you have read The Casual Vacancy yourself and for that I aplogise. I hope that this short review will suffice for now to indicate what my thoughts about the book are.