From Broomsticks to Bedknobs

200px-The_Casual_VacancyThe Casual Vacancy

J.K. Rowling

Little, Brown and Company, September 2012

Reviewed by Evan Fritzenkotter

The author of this novel needs no formal introduction.  The two letters composing her first name are the only credentials she needs for instant recognition.  In 2012, J.K. Rowling published her first novel separate from the stellar world she created with her immensely successful young adult fantasy saga Harry Potter.  To call her Harry Potter novels immensely successful would be an understatement in itself but I think Rowling would forgive this transgression.  The Casual Vacancy is a novel from a different genre written for a different audience all together.  Rowling’s newest book is definitely not for children.  It a story written for an adult audience offering a scope on a similar scale to that of the fantasy world contained in Hogwarts.  Instead of a fantastical, whimsical narrative, Rowling sets The Casual Vacancy in a fictional English town set in the present day, where the residents of this sleepy town deal with very pertinent real life issues.  For the first time, we see Rowling pulling no punches, offering a complete adult experience.

The Casual Vacancy is set in the fictional English town of Pagford, where the citizens are reeling over the sudden death of one of their own, Barry Fairbrother.  It is a story told from differing, multiple perspectives, showing how each person is handling Fairbrother’s death.  Some are sad that they’ve lost a friend, some don’t really care, and others find sick pleasure in the grim news.  Regardless, the different ways each character handles his death offers insight into the type of people they are, playing a significant role through the course of the novel.  This makes for a fast paced, interesting story, keeping the reader locked in for the entire breadth of it.  The tone aptly uses sarcasm and dark undertones to convey the bleak and mundane society.  We see everything from domestic abuse to drug use to teenage sexual innuendos.  From beginning to end, the story never falls short on thematic variety.  The town of Pagford can definitely be a dark place, in stark contrast to the fantastical refuge of Hogwarts.  Like I stated before, this is absolutely not a young adult novel.

There isn’t a single definable hero or heroine, as Rowling depicts the happenings in Pagford from different perspectives, none of her characters appear to set themselves apart from their peers.  The multiple perspective shifts are confusing and convoluted, making it difficult to differentiate one character from another.  It takes a significant time investment with the book before becoming fully acquainted with each of them.  Beside physical description and age differences, there just isn’t much separating one character from another.  Each person fits the bill as either loathsome, depressed, self-absorbed, or self-deprecating.  There are so few positive qualities in these characters, it makes it difficult to identify with any of them as a protagonist.  Rowling also adheres them to classic stereotypes that we’ve all seen before.  We go from the obese and gluttonous Howard Mollison, who finds sick pleasure in delivering the news of Fairbrother’s death, to the sexually promiscuous teenager Krystal Weedon.  While generally interesting and cohesive with the overall theme of the novel, the characters end up offering more in the way of banality than originality.

Rowling’s newest novel isn’t a game-breaker in the world of fiction but it is an interesting adult tale with a grand scope.  She does well tying all the citizens together through a singular event and keeps the pages turning.  What it lacks in originality she makes up for with a variety of conflict coupled with a sheer number of characters.  Something about J.K. Rowling leads readers to expect more from her in the way of character originality though.  Although fitting and entertaining overall, there just isn’t much separating Pagford’s townsfolk from one another.  Seeing her submit to generalized stereotypes was somewhat surprising and a big drawback.  Regardless, The Casual Vacancy is definitely worth the investment and will keep you interested the entire way.  It isn’t the next Harry Potter but, then again, how could anyone be expected to duplicate something like that?

You can purchase The Casual Vacancy here

You can visit the author, J.K Rowling, here

Characters: Hammerhammer 2

Where they fit well with the themes and tone of the story, the characters just don’t separate themselves from one another, especially the adults.  They adhere to generalized stereotypes we’ve seen before.  I was waiting for one of them to step out into the limelight but that moment never came.  

Plot: Swordsword-1

Definitely a page turner and, although dark and depressing, was interesting and kept me engaged the entire time.  There is no shortage of excitement in the town of Pagford.

Creativity: Hammerhammer 2

The story was creative in how all the characters were tied together through the death of Barry Fairbrother.  Pagford was also an interesting setting, with the abbey overlooking the entire town as if God was judging their sins.  Once again, she does many things that we’ve seen before.

Unreality: Hammerhammer 2

No, it’s not the most revolutionary book ever written but it is a good, albeit very dark, story.  It kept me engaged the entire time and I was able to overlook the flaws to find a good read when all was said and done.  

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