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Friday, August 16, 2013

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Book Review: The Caual Vacancy

Well...... it's not Harry Potter.

And I didn't expect it to be. But I felt like from the very first page author J.K. Rowling was shouting it from the top of her lungs along with, "I CAN WRITE ADULT BOOKS TOO!" But for her first go round... eh.

What I love about the Harry Potter series (besides the all the magic that I wish I could do) is that from the first word on the first page, you are immediately swept up into an incredible story. I was looking for something similar with this book. But I didn't quite get what I was expecting.

The book is the tale of a small town in England and the chain of events that follows a single man's death. We, as readers, see the ripple effect sweep through the town, while the characters in the story don't necessarily know that perhaps maybe none of this would have happened if Barry Fairbrother had not died. Barry Fairbrother's death leaves a seat open on the parish counsel, or a "Casual Vacancy," and the battle for the open seat sends the small town into utter turmoil.

I found it very hard to get into. Rowling drops you right into the story filled with a lot of characters that are, at first, hard to tell apart. She spends no time on introductions. We just learn a name. You have to keep reading to really put it all together. I was constantly flipping pages back and forth thinking, "Wait, who is this person again? How are they related to this other person? What are they doing?" It was unpleasant. But once I was able to get the characters straight, it wasn't hard to follow the story line. 

But the story line moves very slowly. There are no major events for a very long time. It is the everyday lives of these everyday people who just happen to be effected by one man's death who was apparently keeping the town from jumping over the edge into small town, political war. Not only is it slow, it is depressing. The people in this town are not happy, and they all have dark secrets that end up coming to light in the most unpleasant ways. It is complicated, convoluted, and a very ambitious story to tell.

I must say though, for such an ambitious story, Rowling does do a pretty good job at least on some levels. The book gets inside the heads of more than ten characters, and by the end of the story, I felt like I knew them all. And all of the characters really represented the typical characters every person has met in real life. There's the depressed wife who dresses too young for her age, the teenager obsessed with coming into contact with what they dub as "real life", the great big fat man who thinks he knows what's best for everyone, and many more. By getting inside all of these different types of characters heads, I felt like I learned something about these types of people in real life as well.

The book is also very well written, with many notable quotes.  Here is one.
"You think that reality is up for negotiation, that we think it's whatever you say it is. You must accept that we are as real as you are; you must accept that you are not God."

J. K. knows what she's doing. And in addition to excellent characters, and language, the story's arc is beautifully tragic. It is book-ended by similar events and after you finish the book, you know that the ending was the inevitably outcome of Barry Fairbrother's death, and one event could not exist without the other.

So, ultimately, I have mixed feelings about the book. I can appreciate it for all of the great things about it, but I also didn't fully enjoy my reading experience. I was happy when I finally finished it because I read it and it was behind me, but that's not necessarily the reaction you'd like after finishing a book.  

Have you read The Casual Vacancy? What did you think?

The Bottom Line

Title: The Casual Vacancy

Author: J. K. Rowling

Genre: Fiction

Recommendation:  Yes

Best Reader Audience: Mature and dedicated male and female readers

Final Rating: Three out of Five mugs of hot chocolate

Want to learn about all of the turmoil boiling just below the surface? Use the link below to buy The Casual Vacancy and your purchase will help support the Lone Book Club.

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