One of this year's most highly anticipated books finally arrived with J. K. Rowling's first piece of fiction since the end of the Harry Potter series – and her first book written for adults – The Casual Vacancy. The sudden death of Barry Fairbrother acts a catalyst in the quiet village of Pagford when the empty seat his death leaves on the parish council sparks controversy and brings to the forefront age-old wounds that go back decades in this seemingly idyllic part of England. In The Casual Vacancy, Rowling takes a closer look behind the façade and discovers a war brewing...
Rowling has such a vivid imagination that she creates not just a story but a world – an intricate one, filled with characters so real they stand up and leap off the page. The real shame though is that for The Casual Vacancy, she really should have let some of her characters sit down. Were half the characters removed, the story would have been far more compelling. Had she focused on either the adults or the children of the piece, the story would have been far more coherent. By trying to detail the everyday lives, struggles and backstories to practically each and every character in the village of Pagford, however, Rowling has bitten off more than she can chew.
There's simply too much going on. By the time the story actually begins, well over 100 pages into the book, many readers will probably have given up trying to keep track of just who everyone is and how they are all linked. There are simply too many perspectives to keep track of and just when you find yourself comfortably rooting for the foul-mouthed but loveable Krystal, the quiet but wildly hormone-driven Andrew or one of the many flawed and insufferable adults, you jump, yet again, to somebody else.
The story was sold as an adult book - to clarify for die-hard Harry Potter fans that this was not in the same genre. What was NOT clarified was just how grim the book is. It is a sad, tragic look at the failings of social services, the pre-conceived prejudices of the older generation, the forgotten victims of domestic abuse and so much more. There is severe teenage bullying, underage sex, assault and self-harm.
The second half of the book is leagues better than the first but sadly, I fear many will not have lasted long enough to find this out. Up to about page 400, there really is none of the drive to finish that usually accompanies a fantastic book. If you love it, you will find the time to read it – even if it means staying up till the early hours of the morning. For the most part, however, this book is easily put-down-able and often harder to pick up again. There's no denying that Rowling is an incredibly imaginative and creative author. It's just such a shame that, here, her imagination got away from her.