In short: The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling is brilliance personified, demonstrating Jo's genius at creating complex and insightful story lines and aIn short: The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling is brilliance personified, demonstrating Jo's genius at creating complex and insightful story lines and authentic and intricate characters.
It was with bated breath that I opened up the first page of The Casual Vacancy, all my immense expectations over the course of the previous months leading up to that moment. I was majorly excited to finally have something new to read from Jo, incredibly interested in what she could have to offer for adults, and... admittedly terrified that I wasn't going to love what she had written. That it was going to be too different, too foreign from my idea of J.K. Rowling and all she represents to me.
And it was. Different, I mean. The Casual Vacancy is very ADULT. That's not to say that there aren't any mature themes in Harry Potter, mind you, but all the story lines in The Casual Vacancy were definitely meant for adults only. And it was a shock. We're talking a story that involves hard drugs, teen sex, and rape. To go from the MG/YA story of Harry Potter, with maybe the occasional curse word, to the very mature and occasionally crude use of language in The Casual Vacancy was a bit stupefying at first.
Add to that that I had a hard time becoming invested in the story right at the start. I'm not sure if it was because the tone was shockingly adult and I didn't really know what to make of my childhood hero using such mature language, but I wasn't immediately taken into the story. And then there were all the characters. There are about 15 different main characters who all have chapters written from their point of view. FIFTEEN. And I was struggling in the beginning to keep track of them all. And I was just feeling underwhelmed by the story.
But then about a fifth of the way in, I realized that I was enjoying myself. REALLY enjoying myself. It sort of snuck up on me. I had been trundling along, trying to sort out the characters and becoming accustomed to Jo's new mature tone - and it all just came together for me. I understood it. Not just the characters and their complex relationships - I understood the story, the themes, and the message J.K. Rowling had been trying to get across. And I LOVED it. And that feeling continued for the rest of the book. Just like that, I realized I was invested in the story and the characters and I NEEDED to read more.
The incredibly mature tone and language that had shocked me so much in the beginning became more refreshing to me as I read on. It was authentic, it was gritty, it was REAL LIFE. I become complacent sometimes as I read my more tame MG and YA books and I forget about the gritty reality of real life. The Casual Vacancy is not a story about beautiful teens who realize they're special and fall in love and have incredibly banal romantic feuds, like the stories I am so used to reading. It is a story about real people, dealing with real situations, and there aren't necessarily any happy endings because life is crappy and unfair. And I truly appreciated that (not that I don't love my fun, easier reads at times, as well).
The characters all struck me as very genuine and credible and HIGHLY complex and well defined. Also - and this may be a turnoff for some readers - they were VERY flawed. There was not a Mary Sue or Gary Stu in sight, not in the slightest. They ranged from positively cruel-intentioned (inciting me to Umbridge-levels of RAGE) to well-meaning, but none are saints and none are entirely likeable. For me though, it was Barry Fairbrother, the amiable and benevolent people-lover who's death at the start sets off a wave of unease and turmoil throughout the small town of Pagford, and Krystal Wheedon, the tragic and foul-mouthed teen, who really emerge as the story's champions. Barry's presence - and the lack thereof - and his message that he so passionately promoted in his waking life, had a profound effect on the rest of the town as does Krystal's authentic attitude and raison d'etre.
My worry that The Casual Vacancy would be so different from Harry Potter that J.K. Rowling would be unrecognizable to me turned out to be completely unfounded. Her stamp was clearly over every inch of it - from the complex characters to the gorgeous and clever writing to the political views promoted in the story's message. And just like with Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling was able to create a story that rendered me breathless at times, so powerful were the words I had read. The ending had me gasping, sobbing, and meditating. It was simply MINDBLOWING... and a tad sickening, as well. Jo's brilliance is at full capacity in The Casual Vacancy.
Okay, okay, but as much as I thought The Casual Vacancy was brilliance personified, I can admit that it is not the book for everyone. And because I'm all about realness, I'm going to try to lay this out as plainly as possible in the hopes that anyone still on the fence about reading this may come to a decision: DO read this book if you are a mega fan of J.K. Rowling's even if this isn't the type of book you would normally read. DON'T read this book if you are turned off by strong language and graphic content. DO read this book if you are looking to read outside your comfort zone and challenge yourself. DON'T read this book if you prefer lighter, easier reads. DO read this book if you prefer character-driven stories. DON'T read this book if you prefer fast paced and action-packed plots. DO continue to read this book if you stopped and gave up reading near the beginning. DON'T read this book just because of all the hype. DO read this book if you love insightful, highly intelligent stories that make you think and leave you breathless....more