The Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling was Bestie C’s choice for our book club.
The great thing about Bestie C is that she doesn’t spend a lot of time following pop culture trends, book reviews and entertainment blogs like I do. It’s great because I get to tell her fun things, and feel like I’m sharing news with someone who hasn’t heard it, however silly or irrelevant that piece of pop culture is. So, Bestie C, like most of the world, thought that we should all read J.K Rowling’s follow-up to the beloved Harry Potter series. And I just didn’t have the heart to tell her it was canned by pretty much everyone. I also thought that I wanted to read it to judge the book for myself. And if I did hate it, it would be ok, but if I liked it, then I would be glad that I had read it.
First, the good things: Rowling paints a complete picture. She writes so that you can easily visualize the town of Pagford, its citizens, and the surrounding areas that have caused a great divide in the town’s small government. Also (Bestie K pointed this out), we always know what’s going on with multiple characters at the same time or event, even if they are not in proximity to each other. It helps to complete the short timeline of events in Pagford following the unexpected death of Golden Boy Barry Fairbrother.
Barry was advocating for Pagford to keep The Fields, a dilapidated, welfare-supported residential area on the outskirts of town within the town’s district. More of the native Pagford residents wanted to push the Fields out to leave them to the bigger neighboring city’s responsibility. While the adults exchange pleasantries to each other in town and scheme to push forward their agendas or to keep their dark secrets private, the teenagers of the town struggle to figure their lives out in the small little town, where everyone knows everyone. The book was definitely a commentary on welfare or “benefits” as they call them in the UK, but I don’t really want to get into that
Now, the bad things: Almost every adult character in this novel is terrible. They are either self-indulgent, self-sacrificing, or pitiful. Now having said that, I will say that I found myself empathizing with most of the younger characters, because there is still hope for them to not turn out like their parents. And because most characters were awful, I found myself either not caring about them or being so mad at them, that I didn’t want to find out what happened to them. Good thing I had book club to keep me “reading.” I switched to the audiobook read by Tom Hollander available on Audible as soon as I realized I wasn’t going to be able to finish this book the regular way. I also did not care for the ending.
I don’t know that I would recommend this book. It’s not the worst I’ve read. It was visual, but it lacked humor. It had a lot of characters, but little character development, as well as more bad characters than good ones.
I feel bad being rough on this book, because I think Ms. Rowling is brilliant, and is capable of more. But I have to be honest, and I just didn’t like it all that much.
I give this book a 2/5.