A Casual Vacancy

There is a lot of hype around JK Rowling’s newest book, “A Casual Vacancy”, her first for adult readers. I bought it, read it and finished it, and I thought I could give some of my opinions.

The book starts with the death of a councilor of a small town somewhere in England, causing what is technically known as a Casual Vacancy. This causes a major stir, since the town has had a long-running dispute over an unwanted housing project that some perceive as a stain on the beautiful town.

It follows the story of several people who all have their own ideas of how to fill the vacant seat, and their own plans that they want to further - whether it is political or simply to annoy others. It also follows some of their children and their friends, whose relationship to their parents is generally not easy.

I think it’s important to point out that this is not a murder mystery. The death is entirely natural. If anything, it’s like Desperate Housewives; a window into the very messed up lives of various people in what seems to be a nice little place.

As expected, the book is well written. At times, it is very funny, and the description of a black comedy certainly fits. The characters are spot-on; if you live in a small town (or a small suburb), there is a good chance that many of the people here will remind you of someone. The plot is not one big confrontation, but rather lots of small, related ones that culminate in one big problem. Much of it is fun and light, but by no means all of it - there is a lot of drug abuse, a parent who beats their children and worse. The contrast is enormous, but fits, because the characters also have a lot of contrast between them.

Social issues are a major point of the book. The book clearly makes a case that the people living in the housing projects are people too; not better or worse, but worthy of care. But claims that this book is a socialist manifesto are just stupid.

But is it…?

But of course, the main question for everyone is: Is it the next Harry Potter? And the answer is clearly no. This isn’t the next Harry Potter. It’s not trying to be the next Harry Potter. In fact, it’s trying very hard not to be Harry Potter.

In place of the hopeful outlook of Harry Potter and the clear black-and-white morality, here you have a lot of characters who are all defect in their own ways. You can establish a ranking if you have too much time, but there is no hero. Some people are more sympathetic than others, but they still have their negative effects on those around them. There is no fantasy in this book; while it’s fictional, it is describing reality1. The language is at times trying so hard to be mature that it almost feels juvenile, with lots of sexual references thrown in places where you don’t really expect (or need) them. Where Harry Potter has one point of view character, this book has about a dozen. And where Harry Potter is a series, this book has a clear ending. Sequels aren’t impossible, but it doesn’t look as if they’re planned.

Conclusion

It’s a nice little book. I liked reading it, but I probably won’t read it twice. I can recommend it, but I don’t think it warrants all the hype that the media has been trying to make, or for that matter, the special JK Rowling price sticker.


  1. Oddly enough, this includes hacking. This is probably the first book or in fact any fiction I’ve read that gets hacking right. Yes, people, SQL injections are this simple and this dangerous. Make sure your websites are protected! 

Written on October 3rd, 2012 at 06:29 pm

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