Several days after finishing J.K. Rowling’s first work for adults, here do I present my extensive, spoiler-free review of The Casual Vacancy. Read below.

The week leading up to the release of The Casual Vacancy found me drown in a level of excitement that I hadn’t truly experienced for a book since the third week of that July in 2007 when the final Harry Potter novel was released. I settled everything in advance to have a happy, uninterrupted reading of J.K. Rowling’s new book; I had made myself sure that my agenda was free for the entirety of September 27th, and never in my mind did I found any trace of a doubt on wether or not I would like the book. It was, after all, J.K. Rowling. Never did I give way to that thinking, until the exact moment that I pressed the ‘Buy‘ button on my Kindle. What if, after all, that author who had filled my teenage years with so many endearing moments had not been able to write a book that enhanced my mind the way that I had automatically expected it to do since the book was announced several months ago?

Those were the thoughts in my mind while reading the epigraph to the first part of the book, but either way I proceeded with an equal amount of curiosity and excitement.

The thing that first struck me during the first minutes of my reading session was the cruelty and roughness with which Rowling approaches the relationships between the book’s characters. The wife who is supposed to love her husband, the father who is supposed to kindly treat his son, the boy who is supposed to respect his dad; those are the type of human interactions that the novel does not take for granted, and exactly the kind of relationships that will be hard to find, at least in a simple form, in this book. Rowling has consciously created, or rather reproduced, a world not so unlike our very own. A world where a child locked up in a cupboard for five days is some of the worst things a social worker has encountered while visiting her cases… no wonder what it would mean in this world to lock up a kid in a cupboard ‘from now until Christmas‘.

In the core of this book, the force moving the story forward is the people. Unlike Rowling’s previous work, which was a plot-driven story supported by strong characters, The Casual Vacancy depends entirely on the author’s capacity to get the reader inside de characters’ mind. Fortunately enough, J.K. Rowling does an splendid job drawing out characters that feel not only real in the sense that each one of them has its own motivations and clear flaws, but that can also feel as people that one can encounter inside the house next door. What’s really interesting about the way she’s written all these people is that, even more than their flaws as humans, the emptiness inside each one of them (displayed one way or another) becomes clear from the very first passages in which the characters are introduced, but thanks to JK’s ability to create fabulous moving descriptions, it never gets too obvious or repetitive. In this subtle way, the novel lays out a series of vacancies that, casual or not, are much deeper than the one that can be assumed by the book’s synopsis.

Her prose is also different in here. While not unrecognizable, you can perceive the improved complexity of the sentences and the use of words that never before we had dreamed of reading from her (not necessarily talking about the cursing). At times, it is astonishing the way she accomplishes to speak to adults through many different voices: She can go from the reluctant 16-year-old’s mind to the thinking despairs of a middle-aged woman, to the unmet needs of a 3-year-old boy in one scene, never letting down either the characters or the readers.

Even though it’s been said in probably every single review out there, I still feel the need to assure everyone, specially parents with children who are fans of Harry Potter, that The Casual Vacancy is not a children’s book. This is clearly not being said on the same basis in which we heard countless times that the latter Potter books weren’t for children any more because of the darkness of the environment and the deepness of their themes. It is true that the book contains a whole lot of swearing, that it includes an extensive share of sex references and some very disgusting descriptions, but the one thing that would probably make me want to put this book out of my children’s reach (if I had any) is the fact that over most of the book there’s a real sense of hopelessness and despair.

Product of Jo’s (successful) effort to recreate in words a current reality, we find ourselves immersed in a hurting society. While I am sure the little town of Pagford has plenty of happy inhabitants, the author has chosen to tell the stories of the troubled ones. Masterly captured on the novel are the problems that affect our world nowadays, and you’ll be terrified at times to identify a couple or so characters that you have met in real life. The dynamics of the relationships have been perfectly crafted, no matter the age or the social class she’s exploring, and it is not rare for one to question how is it that she knows from the inside some of the related horrors.

By now, many things have been say about this book, some of them not particularly good, and while I can understand that this may not be an easy book to fall in love with, to call it ‘dull’ is, clearly, an overstatement. The novel is clever and feels important to our time. It manages to portray a social concern not present in many current books. I can see this novel being read in many years to come and being a standard work to showcase to future generations the perks, but mostly the downsides, of this time and age.

As J.K. Rowling’s first book for adults, The Casual Vacancy does not disappoint and, even if that was not the intention, it does a pretty good job at proving the author’s capability of creating thoughtful, touching stories through great writing. By the time I reached the end of the book I couldn’t stop thinking about the many life stories that I would be leaving behind once I closed the book for the last time. And in the week that has gone by since I finished it, I have still found myself several times wondering and worrying about the life in Pagford, that little messed up town.

The Casual Vacancy can be bought as a hardcopy for $35 or as an e-book for only $17.99.

Share on Pinterest