Natalie's Reviews > The Casual Vacancy

The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling
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Sep 30, 12

Read in September, 2012

I'm just going to copy my review from tumblr...

The fact that I got this novel yesterday morning and finished it the same night should really tell you all you need to know. I was fully prepared to not like this book, in fact I had been quite cynical about it. I had decided that readers would fall into two camps; one side would love it even if it was awful just because it was JK, and the others would hate it unfairly because it was not Harry Potter. I was determined to read it with a critical eye and I was determined to treat it as I would any other book.

I LOVED it.

I genuinely cannot understand why it has received so much criticism. Let’s look at the three main arguments against it that I have heard:

Possible mild spoilers?

1. It’s not Harry Potter.

No shit Sherlock. This makes me mad. JK has said over and over again that THIS IS AN ADULT BOOK. She has no obligation to any of us to write Harry Potteresque novels for the rest of her life. If it’s not your type of fiction, then don’t read it. Simple as that.

2. Too much needless swearing, sex and violence.

I was expecting MUCH worse after hearing this complaint. There really is not that much of this. I mean, yes, some of the characters swear with almost every other word but it’s actually all very realistic. The sex scenes were actually a lot less graphic than I was expecting. There were a couple of vulva and penis descriptions that probably weren’t necessary I guess, but I only thought that like…twice? I can certainly see why the violence and the drug use could trigger certain people but again, JK did not falsely advertise this book and I have read countless other novels that deal with this sort of stuff that have not received this much criticism for it.

3. It paints the middle class in a bad light.

Yes, the worst characters in this novel (discounting Obbo) are middle class. I hated Howard Mollison more and more with every page BUT not every middle class person is painted so badly. I would say that the large majority of characters in this novel had bad and good inside them. It made them quite complex. Samantha Mollison, for example, was a character that I sometimes detested and sometimes sympathised greatly with. Yes, Krystal is the character that we (or at least I) sympathise the most with, but then Kay is one of the most morally sound characters in the novel and she is middle class (I think?). What I’m trying to say is that it was clear to me that JK was simply trying to show her readers that there are people out there that we might see and fear that actually really just need our help. At the end of the day, it would not surprise me if the people complaining about how the middle class are presented are all middle class people themselves. Certain horrible attitudes in this novel are VERY realistic. Instead of getting mad at JK for making us face up to our weaknesses as human beings, maybe we should take something out of this novel and try to do better?

I have already rambled a lot. Oops.

JK is a brilliant writer. Pagford is a living, breathing place that exists solely in the imagination but is incredibly vivid. Every single character is distinct and vibrant. They each have their flaws and most have their sympathies. You can like a character, then hate a character, then pity them. I honestly cannot put into words hoe much I admire JK for being able to create such realistic worlds and people.

At the end of the day this novel is bleak. As I was reading it I was hoping and hoping for a happy ending but I knew it would not come. JK has painted a realistic portrait of the world. Maybe you have not witnessed any of this, I know I’ve been mostly sheltered from it myself, but it IS real. I knew she would wrap it all up like some sort of fairy tale. There is a certain level of hope at the end though; enough to stop me from feeling completely deflated at least.

Genuinely, I only have one criticism; the use of brackets! It bothered me. Every time I saw brackets I thought they were unnecessary but I can deal. XD

One final point is more of a personal thing. The large majority of TV that I watch is American and all of the books that I have read recently have been written by American authors (This is not a bad thing, just pointing that out). The book I was reading before this was by an American author who sent his character to Oxford, and the British stereotyping was PAINFUL. It was really nice for me to read a British author writing about Britain. Did anybody else feel that way? Little things like the use of ‘getting with’ instead of ‘making out’ and the use of my high schools favorite insult ‘bum chums.’ It all just added to the realism for me.

This is more of a ramble than a review. I’ve probably missed a lot of things that I should have mentioned. I would love to discuss this book with anybody else that has read it though. I really think it is a great novel and I bow down to JK for tackling it. She has cemented herself as a great author in my eyes and I am already anticipating her next novel!

I now feel absolutely no inspiration to continue with my own novel, because I know I could never write anything so good. Dammit JK!
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MomIsReading Brilliant review! I never read Harry Potter (although my kids did) and couldn't care less about a kids book series. I'm 14% in on Casual Vacancy and am quite impressed by Ms. Rowling. This book breathes! Like we've opened a curtain into observing real lives happening.


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