Review: Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling
October 4, 2012 § 3 Comments
The Casual Vacancy [Unabridged] [Audible Audio Edition]
by J. K. Rowling (Author),
Tom Hollander (Narrator)
Listening Length: 17 hours and 55 minutes
Audible.com Release Date: September 27, 2012
Secrets, Sabotage, and Scandal or Oh the things muggles get up to…
Casual Vacancy tells the story of a small community in the aftermath of the unexpected death of one of its community leaders and council members, Barry Fairbrother. Several of Fairbrother’s peers are ready and willing to fill his empty council seat but not everyone is happy with the nominees. Suddenly this small town is like an episode of Gossip Girl as somebody claiming to be Barry Fairbrother’s ghost begins posting on the council’s website and outing all of the member’s dirty little secrets (XoXo) And while all of the adults are plotting, planning, and pointing fingers, who is watching their kids? These parents may have underestimated their teens’ resentments as they focus all of their energy on their position in the community.
I listened to the Audible audio version of this and the narration was brilliant. He didn’t really change his voice for the characters much, he simply told the story but his voice and tone was so pleasant that I was able to lose myself completely in the story. I would absolutely recommend listening to this on audio.
What’s great about Casual Vacancy is the authenticity of the characters and the way Rowling so insightfully exposes the uglier side of human nature, the fears and insecurities that sometimes motivate people to do the things they do. While Casual Vacancy is about an empty council seat, the real meat and potatoes of the story is in the interactions between these characters and the complexities of those relationships. Of all the many personalities in this story, I thought that the teenagers were written exceptionally well, not surprisingly. And although the plot revolves around the empty council seat, the children definitely play a big role in this story.
There were a lot of characters with a lot of interaction between all of them which sometimes made it difficult for me to remember who was married to who and which kid belonged to which parent but I can see that cutting even one of the many personalities would have taken something significant away from the story. The only negative about the charcaters being so genuine and familiar is that it felt a bit like spying on your neighbors. It’s all deliciously scandalous what they get up to, but only if you know them personally. Otherwise, no one really cares because they’re just like everyone else’s’ neighbors.
Where Casual Vacancy didn’t work for me was in the plot. It’s almost as if she created these complex, multi-faceted characters and then threw together these unexceptional circumstances so they could interact. For most of the book, I was honestly pretty bored with the storyline. But about 2/3s of the way through, I began to really enjoy the story. Just getting there as a bit slow. The complex characters and wonderful writing might be enough to pull a reader through a plot that is like slogging through quicksand. The question is, was the payoff at the end enough to make that tedious journey worth it. Ultimately, for me it was.
It’s JK Rowling so it is no surprise that the writing was stellar. At one point, when I complained about how slow moving the story was, a friend asked me if I would have even kept reading if it would have been any other author. My reply was, if it had been any other author, I would have never picked this book up. I had to keep this fact in mind when listening to Casual Vacancy because I thought maybe that is why many people are having such an issue with this book. A book like this might not appeal to many of Rowling’s fan base being so far from what they enjoyed about the Harry Potter series.
There were several laugh out loud moments and I especially enjoyed some of the eccentricities of the characters. The pacing of the story was slow and steady, with emphasis on the "slow". I did like that Casual Vacancy wrapped up all the loose ends by the end even though some of those loose ends seemed like they were tied up a little too conveniently to feel genuine. Overall, it was a lot darker than I expected which certainly increased my enjoyment of it. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it for fans of Harry Potter, but perhaps for fans of General fiction.