Friday, September 28, 2012

The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

Little, Brown
Published September 27, 2012
512 pages
Buy here.

Four words: This. Book. Is. Awesome.  It's dark, it's a bit gritty, it is everything I wasn't necessarily expecting from J.K. Rowling, and that is mostly why I enjoy it so much.

The official synopsis about the book that was released a few months ago focuses on the main plot thread: a man on a small-town council dies, and the rest of the book deals with what happens when heads bash in the election to re-fill his seat.  A fine synopsis, to be sure, but since this book is only 20% about this plotline and 80% about the characters, such a synopsis fails to do the book any real justice.

This is because in terms of a cohesive plot, that really is the gist of this 500-page novel.  Barry Fairbrother, who holds a seat on the Pagford town council, is in the midst of dying when the story begins.  What happens throughout the rest of the book revolves around a number of other families in town as the stage is set to choose Barry's replacement, but it is the details about and interactions between these families that really make this book what it is.  Relationships between husbands and wives, parents and their (adult and teenaged) children, students and their teachers, and council members and fellow council members take center-stage in this sprawling tapestry of a tale.

It's a point-of-view novel, so the character focus is constantly shifting as the full extent of characters' relationships to one another are slowly revealed throughout the book.  In this, Rowling succeeds in creating both incredibly fleshed-out characters and a level of mystery, and both of these created more than enough enticement for me to continue reading.  The characters themselves are largely unlikable and petty people, but in realistic ways that allow the reader to sympathize with (almost) all of them despite the dislike.  Pretty much everyone in this story is fairly miserable to some degree, but that misery is very human and lends to a degree of universality.  This in particular is what makes the book such a successful venture.

Rowling's writing in her new book is superb, her descriptions are vivid (I was particularly moved by Kay's first visit to the Weedons' home), and the dialogue flows wonderfully.  Given the tone, themes, and topics brought up in the story, it is absolutely, positively geared toward adults, and I would recommend leaving any and all Potter-based expectations at the door when reading this book.

Rating: 4/5

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