Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Casual Vacancy

The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling (2012)

The long-awaited new novel from the author of the Harry Potter series takes us to the small village of Pagford, where local parish council member Barry Fairbrother has just died suddenly of a brain aneurysm. His seat must be filled and the political implications are large - the fate of The Fields, a low income neighborhood with a methadone clinic - hangs in the balance. The struggle pits rich against poor, haves against have-nots, and the lives of the most vulnerable are at stake. Tension simmers under the surface of the seemingly-idyllic town, manifesting itself in conflicts between husbands and wives, and teenagers and their parents, and these conflicts have implications far beyond the walls of home.

Reviews for this book were late coming because of the embargo, and are very mixed. Negative reviews seem based on the fact that this book isn't Harry Potter, exclaiming about the foul language and sex. Well, it's a novel for adults and filled with adult problems, which tend to involve things like sex and swearing.

Rowling's talent for creating colorful characters is apparent here, in the large cast of villagers with various neuroses and quirks and complicated relationships with one another. This is a fairly long book - over 500 pages - but it needs to be, with all that is going on. She gives ample attention to each character, and their detailed personalities and genuineness are the real strengths of the novel.

I've always enjoyed Rowling's writing style, easy and fast-paced with an undercurrent of humor, even in this serious novel. Despite some of the negative reviews, I thought The Casual Vacancy was compelling and even fun, while still tackling serious, complicated issues. Rowling has proven that her talents extend beyond fantasy for children and I'm looking forward to what else she has in store.

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