Sunday, April 21, 2013
THE CASUAL VACANCY
5 stars out of 5
Yes, I know this book isn't for kids; it's J.K. Rowling's first attempt at writing a novel for adults. But as a died-in-the-wool fan of the Hogwarts clan - I've devoured every single page of every single Harry Potter book she's written, seen all the movies and bought all the DVDs - I figured if she can work her magic that superbly on books that appeal to just about all ages, her new one is bound to be pretty good at the very worst.
To be sure, reviews have been mixed; some folks think it's great, and others have given it so-so ratings. So from the git-go, I tried to keep an open mind and, of course, put wizards and Muggles out of my thoughts. That said, after just a few chapters, Rowling's writing style came through. Maybe it was my unconscious mind peeking through, but I could tell who wrote this book right from page one.
The setting is set in the small English town of Pagford and opens with the unexpected death of one of the town's council members (thus creating the title for the book). From there, it explores the backgrounds of the town and its rival neighboring village of Yarvil and a number of the residents of both - warts and all. All this is tied to the search for a council replacement; the winner, it seems, will have the power to effect changes that will be welcomed by some and not others.
Early on, it's a big of a chore to keep all the characters straight. Rowling does a terrific job of introducing them and providing background information, but perhaps because my aging brain doesn't have the recall ability of my younger years, I tended to be a little foggy on who's who in a until about a third of the way through, when new characters stopped coming and I was comfortable in knowing the good, the bad, and in some cases, the ugly, of each.
Yes, it takes a bit of slogging to get through the book - at 512 pages, it's hardly a piece of fluff (but if you think this is long, try wading through the 739-page Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the final book in her HP series). But just as with the Potter books, it is character development, and using well-crafted words and phrases to show how they're all intertwined, that is Rowling's strong suit here. Described by some as a comedy, this book is not a cliff-hanger that will have you on the edge of your seat; there are no ax murders or kidnappings and nobody falls off a broom during a Quidditch match. Rather, it's an in-depth look at life that touches the emotions on many levels. Worth reading? Absolutely!
The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling (Little, Brown and Co., September 2012); 512 pp.