The Casual Vacancy – J. K. Rowling: Initial Thoughts

I finally finished The Casual Vacancy last night. It took me about a month to read, but that’s counting the 2-week-or-so period that I avoided it after getting to page 50 and getting bored. Even once I got into the story for real (probably not until about page 200 or so), I kept forgetting to bring it to work with me so I only ended up reading a few pages each night.

I don’t have it in me just yet to write a “real” review, mostly because I still haven’t quite sorted out my thoughts. But here are a few of my initial thoughts from as I was reading and immediately after I finished it:

1. Obviously, it is very—VERY—different from Harry Potter. If you want or expect a basically light-hearted tale about goofy hijinks in a cute English town, this book is not for you. It is very dark and very gritty, and there’s a lot of sex, cursing, drugs, etc. This is not the J. K. Rowling we all are used to.

2. J. K. sure can still write kids very well, even the boys. I agree with Amanda’s assessment that that is one thing that has not changed from her Harry Potter days.

3. I know next to nothing about English political hierarchies, or the drama they can cause, but after years of relishing Stephen King’s incredible characterization of the issues and insecurities that plague small towns, I can say that J. K. Rowling painted a fantastic picture of the pain, pleasure, and pettiness one experiences in small town life.

4. It was definitely a little jarring to read a book during which pretty much nothing good happened. Don’t read this if you like happy, fluffy stories.

5. As a very politically apathetic person, I was surprised to find myself so invested in the politics of Pagford. (Mostly it was because a lot of the people on one particular side annoyed the crap out of me, but still.) I was also pleasantly surprised to see that most of the characters were multi-dimensional, rather than having a “good guys vs. bad guys” dichotomy. That’s not to say that there wasn’t the occasional character who was pretty much 100% good (or 100% bad, as the case may be), but the large majority of the characters were shown in a variety of lights and in a variety of interactions, and I was eventually able to get a full sense of all these people.

I’ll expand on these points later, but I just wanted to get a few down and see what everyone else has thought! Also, my “real” review will probably be chock full of spoilers, so if you haven’t read The Casual Vacancy but plan to, my real review might be something to avoid.

Hope everyone is staying safe during Hurricane Sandy!! We’ve still got power for now but who knows how long that’ll last. Be safe, everyone!

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5 thoughts on “The Casual Vacancy – J. K. Rowling: Initial Thoughts

  1. I can’t believe everyone has already read this (actually I can). I’m still on hold at the library because as much as I love JK I’m not shelling out $35 for it!

    I know more about the political system than I’ve probably ever needed to know in the UK and can’t wait to read it! I’ve a couple of friends who are really involved in local politics so it’ll be interesting to see her perspective.

      • Just read it and I agree wholeheartedly with what you’ve written. Having friends heavily involved in local politics over there made it more interesting to me. I think the hardest part was getting into it, her descriptions and characterizations were great, but they were a bit heavy handed and made those first 200 pages a struggle, but the last 100 pages WHAM!

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