It’s casual, it’s vacant.

Frieda Yeung, Contributing Writer

J.K. Rowling’s new book, The Casual Vacancy, is not Harry Potter. There is no heartwarming magic, and the kids in the book get up to things that Harry, Ron, and Hermione would probably never even dream of. It is a well-written book dealing with adult subjects, but if you do not want to read about sex, rape, drugs, alcohol, self-harm, domestic violence, and many more troubles, put it down. In some senses it is a disturbing book, but in other senses, Rowling helps her readers relate to her troubled characters so well that it is rather scary good writing.

The Casual Vacancy is set in the small British country town of Pagford. Its plot entwines politics with the lives of bored, small minded, self centered, everyday people: A seat on the town’s Parish Council has been left open by the recently deceased Barry Fairbrother, who seems to be the only saintly figure among the Pagford population. While the characters in the story begin to run for the seat, their personal motivations and problems give the story life. This set up allows Rowling to explore both emotional and political territory that she hadn’t reached in her previous books. Her very definite stance on politics is expounded upon throughout the whole book—it was interesting, but in some parts it was so well expounded that it made for a bit of a tedious read

While Harry Potter celebrated goodness and love, The Casual Vacancy takes a pessimistic stance on human nature: relationships fall apart, teens and parents struggle to understand each other and eventually give up, and around each corner is a pitfall devised by the gossipy citizenry of Pagford. Even worse, the blind and wealthy Pagford government and its upcoming election are blowing the life of the desperate and poor Krystal Weedon apart (there’s the class warfare and politics!).

I personally enjoyed Rowling’s take on life even though it felt a bit cliché. I thought her interpretation of the struggles and emotions of a first generation Asian teen in an all white community was pretty accurate, and was one of the things that kept me reading. Her exploration of women—especially housewives—also kept me reading. With the diversity of characters—there is a beefy man! —Rowling must be commended for her courageous exploration of how each of them might think, feel, and act after a long ride on the Hogwarts Express.

All of this aside, it was not exactly an exciting read. After the hook, which lasted about twenty pages, I found myself constantly wondering why on earth I was even concerning myself with these petty people, and where the plot had gone. This skepticism lasted until page three hundred (out of five hundred), when the story finally took flight.

The problem with The Causal Vacancy is that Rowling takes too long to set up the story. The personal problems, convictions, and thoughts of the characters give the plot life, but by the time the plot has been set up, these personal problems and characters seem arbitrary, and the reader is bored. The end is marginally satisfying, but Rowling never reaches the emotional heights and triumphs that she could have. At the end of the novel, I did not feel very touched or moved or any of those good things.

The ironic thing about the novel is that it is strangely, casually vacant. I even felt a bit vacant after reading it – likening me to a cliché, bored, and small-minded Pagford citizen.

I am not sure whether I should try to banish all thought of Harry Potter and the hefty franchise or not while reviewing this book. I have, however, tried not to think of Harry Potter, because this book is nothing like it. Also, I spent close to zero time thinking about the bespectacled boy with the lightening scar while reading The Casual Vacancy (besides thinking, “This book should be called The Muggles.”). But, as many of you know, Harry Potter is always lurking somewhere in my mind, and I am a naïve teen who knows little of the troubles that Rowling describes in her novel for adults. Therefore, to conclude, I would like to say these words: good book, but I would probably not read it again like many of the die hard JK Rowling fans are used to doing.