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Book Review: The Casual Vacancy December 27, 2012

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Books.
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I’ll be good, no spoilers here.

I’ve just finished JK Rowling’s new book, The Casual Vacancy.  I’ll admit, if this book had not been by JK Rowling, I would not have even picked it up.  But since I’m such a complete Potter-head, I needed to give it a chance.

I didn’t love it, but I didn’t hate it either.  Small-town squabbling over a suddden vacancy on the town council, by a group of people with a host of individual personal problems.  It’s not written for children and it’s deeply political.

Positives: Rowling makes her basic points about social issues, and I happen to agree with her about them.  She does her usual good job of creating characters that ring true.  There was occasional humor to break the tension, and Rowling always does that well.

Negatives.  I’ve been thinking about these, and I’ve come up with two main problems I have with this book.

First:  She introduces her characters way too quickly. (This was not a problem in Harry Potter.)  There were around twenty main characters introduced in rapid succession, and I had to keep notes for the first couple hundred pages to keep everbody straight.  I’ve noticed this problem in some mystery novels too.  Most of the time, when I run into this, I wind up putting the book aside, and never bothering to finish it.  This problem could have been solved by an editor putting their foot down about fixing it, but who’s going to tell JK Rowling that she needs to change her book?

And second:  Nothing about this world drew me in the way the Potter universe did.  In Harry Potter, many of the characters are people you would want to hang out with, and lots of the locations are places you would want to be.  Spending time in Pagford (the setting of Casual Vacancy) was more like spending a whole book in Little Whinging with the Dursleys.  The characters ranged from fairly annoying to deeply unpleasant.  There were characters I loathed and characters I felt sorry for, but there was nobody that I liked well enough to be rooting for, nobody that I would actually be friends with if they were real.  I can put up with that for one book, I guess, but when I finished I was not wishing for a sequel.  I was just as happy to be done with these people.

So overall, it’s a solid novel and worth a read.  But don’t expect the enchantment of Harry Potter, and don’t hand it to your kids.

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