I felt this was a brilliant follow-up to the Harry Potter series. Well done J.K. Rowling, well done. However, I will say that it wasn’t perfect and it wasn’t easy to get into, but overall I thoroughly enjoyed it and it closed with a BANG!
I have to start with an admission that I have a heavily biased opinion about UK politics. While living in Leeds I was heavily involved in student politics and all of my friends and acquaintances were heavily involved in politics (local, national, activism). And while there, many people I knew stood for local elections, and since I left the UK more have stood and even more now hold office, so reading The Casual Vacancy was like a joyful return to Leeds and listening to the countless, often repetitive, debates about local/national politics.
I have to agree with the many other reviews I’ve read that J.K. Rowling’s strength is again revealed with her characterization of the youth in the novel. From serving as the catalysts for the action to providing more insight into Pagford than many of the adults, the teens of this novel made the most impact and brought many issues facing teens to the forefront of the story.
I would take it a step further and say that her ability to juggle multiple characters and interwoven story lines is another highlight of the book. Going into this book, I was most wary about this. With Harry Potter, Rowling had 7 books and over 4,000 pages to wrap up the story. And given that story takes place over 7 years, and this one takes place over a few months I should have known the 500 pages was sufficient. And although, as Bridget stated, this book is not a happy book, I’m glad that it ended on a note of potential happiness for the town, and individuals, of Pagford.
The great weakness of the novel is, unfortunately, the first 200 or so pages. Rowling’s tendency for gradual introductions and over-descriptions really detracted from the story at the beginning and made it a struggle to get involved because I kept forgetting who the characters were. I don’t think the story would’ve been as great if she removed any characters, but there must have been something she could do to reduce the dragging of the first half of the novel.
Recommendation: I don’t think this is for everyone, but I do feel anyone who reads it can appreciate it. If you want a look at a cross-section of contemporary British society I think this is a pretty good effort, perhaps not quite as dramatic, but good none-the-less. I know I thoroughly enjoyed it and can’t wait to re-read it because I feel that now that I’ve conquered it once the beginning hopefully won’t be as long the second time through.
Opening Line: “Barry Fairbrother did not want to go out to dinner.”
Closing Line: “Her family half carried Terri Weedon back down the royal blue carpet, and the congregation averted its eyes.” (Whited out.)
Additional Quotes from The Casual Vacancy
“Simon had the child’s belief that the rest of the world exists as a staging for their personal drama; that destiny hung over him, casting clues and signs in his path, and he could not help feeling that he had been vouchsafed a sign, a celestial wink.” (49)
“The mistake ninety-nine percent of humanity made, as far as Fats could see, was being ashamed of what they were; lying about it, trying to be somebody else. Honesty was Fats’ currency, his weapon and defense. It frightened people when you were honest; it shocked them.” (73-4)
“She would not forgive Kay for the rude outstretched plate; the woman was bolshy and patronizing, exactly like Lisa, who had monopolized every get-together with her political views and her job in family law, despising Samantha for owning a bra shop.” (224)