J.K. Rowling. At this point, everyone knows her name, which is why I’m not even going to dive into her previous work or accolades since it would just be reiterating facts that you’re already familiar with. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that when she released her first novel since the Harry Potter series back in September, it became an immediate global best-seller. Being a fan myself, I was very excited to sink my teeth into it and shape my own impressions of her as an adult author and not a creator of children’s books.
As I mentioned, this is JKR’s first foray into being an adult writer and in that perspective, it feels like she’s trying to distance herself from her previous work as much as possible. The first indication of this is the scope of this story. It’s so small compared to Harry Potter not just in its setting but in its depth. It’s true that small town politics can be intriguing and even scandalous but her ability to paint colorful characters doesn’t prevent the plot from falling flat. The second clue that she’s trying to assert herself as an adult is the prevalence of sex, drugs and alcohol. Gone are the squeaky clean kids who were the paragon of moral excellence and courage. Instead, you find the protagonists dealing with some real-life issues of self-image, harsh parenting and unforgiving environments. In a way, you get the impression that she’s trying to keep her imagination in check and stick to more contemporary challenges.
Narrative aside, one of my biggest criticisms of the book is the lack of a chart outlining the various characters. She throws so many at you at the very beginning of the book that it would have been nice to have something to refer to for at least the first 100 pages. It got to the point where I was scribbling names down on my boarding pass at the airport while waiting to board my flight home to Kansas City for the holidays. Sure, it made me look hardcore but at the end of that day, that work should have been done for me. Luckily for you, the Internet is a beautiful place and you can check back here (in case you’re worried, the list doesn’t reveal any spoilers) for a brief list of characters that might be throwing you for a loop.
Overall, I’m glad I read “The Casual Vacancy” and I will most likely read everything that JKR puts out in the future. However, you can’t help but wonder if this book would have been as successful without her name attached to it and my gut instinct is telling me “no.”
- Grade: B-
- What’s it about: A member of the Pagford city council dies suddenly, opening his seat to whomever wants to rise to the challenge. As the election unfolds, you discover more and more about the candidates, their families, their secrets and the relationships that tie them all together.
- Who should read this book: Anyone who’s read Harry Potter and anyone who hasn’t and wants to become familiar with J.K. Rowling’s style. There’s no arguing that she can be very engaging.
- When should you read it: Someone looking for a casual read but not wanting to compromise on the quality of the writing.
- Where can you find it: Amazon.com for $16. Still only available in hardback.
Has anyone else read it? What were your impressions? Am I being too harsh?