Books, Reviews

The Casual Vacancy

I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to write this post. I prefer recommending books to reviewing them – why spend time writing about something you didn’t love and want to share? But I know a few people are interested in knowing what a non-critic thinks of JK Rowling’s first post-HP book. So I’m going to go for it, there will be slight spoilers I imagine so look away now if you want to!

Firstly, I’m in two minds as to whether reviewers should mention Harry Potter. On one hand, The Casual Vacancy is a completely different genre and targets a completely different audience to HP plus HP was a once-in-a-lifetime bestseller that is pretty impossible to follow. BUT on the other hand, I loved HP – I think it has brilliant story-telling, characters you fall in love with and root for and has some amazing page-turning moments and this was the reason I brought The Casual Vacancy – I was sure that JK Rowling’s next book would include these things. However, other writers switch genres and audience but maintain their great story-telling powers. I must mention Stephenie Meyer – she wrote a bestselling series I loved and followed this with an adult sci-fi book – this is not a genre I ever read but I loved The Host – it is actually better written than Twilight too. So it can, and has, been done.

After that long intro, let’s begin the review. The Casual Vacancy is pretty hard to describe. The best genre I can come up with is contemporary adult fiction – it is a study of a small English town that houses middle-class families desperate to distance themselves from a council estate on the edge of their town. The basic plot is that one of the town’s councillors dies leaving his seat vacant and there are two camps wanting to fill it – those who want the council estate to be governed by the nearest big town and to close an addiction clinic, and those who think they should keep both. My biggest issue with the book was that when you don’t have a page-turnng plot, you want characters to root for but the characters here are not people you want to root for. They are not likeable. They do horrible things. It is raw in it’s study of human nature – every bad thing you can imagine happens – abuse, rape, self-harming, suicide, adultery, bullying etc. It’s all piled in and the problem with including everything is it’s not as shocking – you are desensitised to it as it appears in every chapter.

I’ve read some reviews that think the book is to display JK Rowling’s socialist politics – even this would have been helpful but for me, the book doesn’t do that. Yes – the middle class do bad things but so does the working class. Yes at a point near the end, the middle-class characters literally turn a blind eye to the poor leading to something truly tragic but the poorer characters make bad decisions too. You can say that the politicians should have done more to help the poor but it’s hard to care about the characters she chose to write about. The only one I liked in the end was a middle-class teenager so I’m at a loss what she really wanted us to take from the book. Or I totally missed the point, which may well be the case. But if I did, surely others will too?

I started to wish that the death that starts the books as suspicious – giving me something to care about through the large page count. But instead I struggled through the book – determined to get to the end in the hope it would be amazing. If it hadn’t been written by JK Rowling I probably would have given up halfway through. I was left disappointed – there’s no denying it and I would be very wary of buying another JK Rowling book, which I can’t believe I’m saying after how much I loved Harry Potter. I can really only give my personal opinion on this book – there may well be many fans of it – I just didn’t love it. But JK Rowling will always be a huge inspiration to me as writer  and I hope this book brings her continued success.

Who else has read it or will be reading it?




40 thoughts on “The Casual Vacancy”

  1. I don’t think I’ll be picking it up, I’m not interested in the subject matter at all. If I can’t relate or root for characters then I probably wont enjoy it either. I guess it just targets a more specific audience.

    1. I personally wouldn’t class it as that, I avoided calling it that in the post – the prose just didn’t feel literary but I’ll be interested to hear your opinion on that when you read it!

  2. I plan on reading it. I’ve never read Harry Potter though, and I’m a huge fan of realistic contemporary adult fiction, so it actually sounds like something I could really sink my teeth into. I think it will also help that I don’t have any preconceived ideas of what to expect from her. Personally, I think people reading this book who were into Harry Potter should expect to not like it. I’ve seen SO many negative reviews of this book from Harry Potter fans. It just seems like they set themselves up for disappointment. I’m really interested to read this as a non JK fan to see if it is a good stand alone novel regardless of who wrote it or what genre it is.

  3. I respect JK for writing a book that’s important to her. Did I enjoy it? No. But I felt it was well-written with complex characters. Do I recommend it to my friends? Not much, except for curiosity. Will I read. JK’s next book? Definitely.

  4. I haven’t read it yet, but it’s on my to-read list. I really want to like it, but from every review I’ve read so far I feel pretty sure that I won’t like it at all. But maybe going into it with such low expectations will help? Haha!

  5. First I have to say that I also love Stephanie Meyer’s “adult” novel The Host. I wasn’t sure if it would be as page-turning as the Twilight series, or if it would have some unexpectedly naughty scenes since she was so clear about classifying it as “adult,” but it really didn’t, and I ended up enjoying it just as much as Twilight. She still has the same self-sacrificing “I-love-you-so-much-I-need-to-die-for-you” characters as Twilight, and the whole inter-species romance thing going on. I heard rumors that The Host will be made into a film….have you heard anything?

    As for Casual Vacancy, as soon as a read the synopsis for it, long before it was on bookshelves, I thought, “SNOOZE ALERT!” It doesn’t look like anything I would ever consider reading just for fun. I think she’s just riding on the coat-tails of her Harry Potter success to try to push along some sort of political agenda, as you mentioned earlier. Maybe since she was once living a pretty impoverished life herself, she feels a duty to voice the injustices between social classes or something.

    1. Yes The Host is filming now, think it’s out next year! She’s producing it so should be a good adaptation!

      I was the same after reading the synopsis but I kind of thought there would be a twist lol.

  6. I was umming and aaarringg about picking up this book, but I think after reading that review. I’ll give it a pass.
    I guess famous authors can sell books based on their name instead of the quality of the writing/story, which is a sad thing.

  7. Thank you for writing such a thoughtful review of JK Rowling’s latest work. Like you, I’m a Harry Potter fan, and it seems like A Casual Vacancy would be an ideal novel for me because I enjoy adult contemporary fiction. But I’m on the fence. I’m curious about her latest endeavor, but not that curious, especially when the kindle price (recently reduced) still isn’t inexpensive enough for me to overlook the mixed/negative reviews.

  8. Thankyou for reading it for me. I had a feeling I wouldn’t enjoy it. Now you’ve done all the hard work and confirmed my suspicions. Good Review mind. But that doesn’t suprise me either

  9. I have to admit. I never got through the first Harry Potter book. I don’t know why….maybe it’s her style or voice, but I didn’t get into the books. The movies, however, are great!

  10. I picked this up at Barnes and Noble the other day and tried to read it, but couldn’t get my teeth into it. The prose didn’t carry me and I’m pretty much a reader of everything. With that said, I may not have enjoyed the little bit I read of this novel, but I’ll definitely continue to check out her other novels, especially if they are written for YA. That seems to be where her skills and authenticity are. There’s nothing wrong with writing novels for young and new adults.

  11. I didn’t really plan on reading it, mainly because I knew HP would get in the way. After reading your review I see that I may have been right. Perhaps after the HP craze has died down, then it won’t impact her new book as much. I just think it’s still too soon after HP; the comparisons are going to be side by side.

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