Review: The Casual Vacancy

The Casual Vacancy
The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Having recently finished The Casual Vacancy on audio book, I’m left wondering at the point of the entire story and why I wasted so much time on this book. I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily a bad book, but I think it’s over written with a wandering plot and abrupt ending, but it’s definitely not a great, wonderful, read over and over again book (like the Harry Potter series). The prose often feels as though it’s trying entirely too hard to be clever and unique while the plot never has a cohesive trajectory. The vast cast of characters is certainly multifaceted and nuanced but entirely reprehensible with not a single likeable character in the entire book. I don’t really know what point the author was trying to convey with this book, nor what the book is actually about.

The entire story revolves around a small town in England called Pagford. The book starts with the death of a well-liked member of the community, who also sat on the parish council. His seat is now up for grabs and initially the book makes a big deal about this general election to fill the seat. This gives the impression that the main thrust of the story is about the election and the various underhanded actions of everyone associated in some way to it. However, this plot point soon peters out to a very anticlimactic ending of the election. By this time, the cast doesn’t even care about the election anymore although the book continues for some time after this so clearly the election really isn’t the main point.

Another possible purpose of the book is to highlight the various community members of Pagford and how they are all horrible in their own ways. Here the book does an incredible job offering nuanced and reasoned characterizations for every single person. Almost everyone is a major character with a narrative voice and the book takes great pains to show the various circumstances and disappointments that led to them being dreadful people. This is easily a double edged sword because while the characterization may be outstanding, it still leaves the reader with a cast of awful, unlikable people doing terrible things, although seemingly justifiable at the time.

One of the reasons I didn’t like this book is that there’s not a single character you can root for and hope their life improves. Each one does something abhorrent or is frankly unlikable in his/her own right. The closest I came to liking someone was feeling pity for Andrew Price and Sukhvinder Jawanda. The rest of Pagford are self absorbed and I didn’t like listening to any of their thoughts or justifications. I kept wondering what the point of it all was and why I should care about any of them. I stayed with the book partially in hopes that the plot would reveal some grand plan for all the characters but instead it ends abruptly with no real closure to anyone/anything.

Additionally I found the writing occasionally painful. I liked the clean, vivid imagery of Rowling’s other books with writing that allowed for a great deal of subtext. Here I felt the prose was awkward and verbose, often tripping over itself to be clever. The imagery felt too melodramatic and repetitive instead of fresh and interesting. Here I could hear the narrator occasionally having trouble with some of the phrasing, which only increased my impression of the loquacious prose.

Ultimately this isn’t a book I’d recommend. I think the author clearly has a lot of skill, as demonstrated by the compelling and fully nuanced cast, but at the same time I think the story has little to no real focus and less likability. Hopefully this isn’t a series and any future books will be better. I don’t want to give this the GR 1 star, although I didn’t like it, because I think it’s better written than that. However I do think it deserves the 2 star rating.

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3 thoughts on “Review: The Casual Vacancy

  1. Amanda says:

    I haven’t read this book because I have heard enough to know it isn’t for me. I completely get that Rowling wanted to write something completely different from Harry Potter and I had originally believed I would read whatever she wrote but I have to at least like some of the characters in a book in order for me to spend time reading about them.

    • I’m not entirely sure where Rowling was going with this. What was she trying to say? I realize that likability is subjective from reader to reader but I fail to see what is enthralling about someone that abuses their family, or the wife that lets it happen, or the teenager that’s raped or the man with severe OCD or the nasty wife who belittles her husband’s business partner. The list just goes on and on.

      No thanks.

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