I don’t think I could add anything too different from what’s already been said about The Casual Vacancy in over three thousand Amazon reviews. I’ve noticed that the reviews are mixed, and about half either loved the book or half didn’t. I’d like to add up front that I did not read anything in the Harry Potter series because I’m not a fan of that genre. I saw a few of the movies and I yawned through them. Once again, because I’m not a fan of that particular genre.
But I am a fan of J.K. Rowling now and it’s all because of The Casual Vacancy. I’ve read where a lot of people didn’t like the fact that there are so many characters. I found this aspect not only refreshing, but also something most writers aren’t capable of doing. As a writer I know how difficult it is to weave multiple characters into a plot and I don’t do it often because it’s so difficult to keep the story flowing and at the same time keep reminding the reader who the characters are. And I didn’t have any issues following all the characters in The Casual Vacancy. In fact, what kept me reading and thinking about the book was what was going to happen to these characters. And there’s really nothing extraordinary about them, and yet you wind up caring about them.
I will admit that I started this book a while ago, and then I put it aside because I got busy with other things. But that’s something else I loved about it. I do that with authors like John Irving sometimes. I’ll start the book, get to a certain point, and then stop reading for a few weeks…even months sometimes…and then come back to it right where I left off. And after all that time, if the book is good enough, those characters and the plot are with me to a certain extent. I can’t say that about many other books I’ve read in my lifetime. And that’s because a book like The Casual Vacancy only comes along once in a while.
I noticed a lot of people compared TCV to Peyton Place. I would go so far as to say that it did remind me of Peyton Place, but I don’t think Grace Metalious was anywhere near the author J.K. Rowling is. If I had to compare Petyon Place to anything nowadays I would probably compare it to Fifty Shades of Grey instead of The Casual Vacancy because I think Metalious and E.L. James are probably on the same level as far as author skills go. And that’s by no means a slur to either of them. They both wrote great books and people loved them.
But there’s a literary quality to The Casual Vacancy that crosses that painfully thin line into mainstream commercial that truly interested me. From page one, I found myself caring about the people of Pagford and wondering what was going to happen to them. I also found reading about lifestyles in the UK just as interesting. In many ways, it’s not all that different from the US, and Pagford could have been my little town, New Hope, in Bucks County, PA….from the politics to the class warfare to the little secrets going on behind the scenes.
What some readers have commented on is that there’s a dark side to this book, and I just didn’t see that. There’s a realistic side. I saw that very plainly. But I didn’t see all the darkness and gloom. Like I said, it’s real and sometimes it’s intense. And sometimes there’s some wit and humor worked into the book when you don’t expect it. It’s also gossipy in the way many small towns are. But I just didn’t see all that darkness and gloom others talked about.
Rowling could have held back in some instances, especially with regard to the male teenage characters. And yet she didn’t, and I found this aspect of the book more like a character study. It surprised me, too. As someone who never had read Harry Potter, I honestly didn’t think she had it in her. This is why I didn’t want to get into an overall plot description with this review. So many others have done that well in other reviews, and I wanted to add a few different thoughts…if that’s possible…for readers who might be thinking of reading The Casual Vacancy but aren’t sure if it’s the book for them.
All I can say if that if you like things glossed over and hidden, and you’re not a fan of really reading about some of the more intense things in life, this might not be the book for you. If you tend to take the more difficult aspects of life seriously and you carry images around in your head for a long time, this book might not be for you either. But if you are interested in reading something that gets into the realities and complications of what life is like today, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprsed at how J.K. Rowling managed to pull this off. And I hope there are more books like this one in her future.