The Casual Vacancy - J.K. Rowling

I've mentioned before that I was part of Harry Potter fandom with all the joy and craziness that afforded me. Of course, by the end of it all I was burnt out and the last book was released during a rough time in my life. The last two books in the Potter series were flabby and poorly constructed. It felt as if Rowling just threw anything on the page in order to just be done.

By the time last fall rolled around a little of the Potter magic was back because Rowling had finally written a new book, her second.  I call it her second because, honestly, the Potter series was really just one long novel.  This book was what would make or break Rowling's standing as an author.  I didn't read the reviews but I had the impression that the novel was generally well-received.  There were a few spiteful sites that pulled some quotes of the book out of context.  I linked to one of them because it was amusing.

Since I didn't buy the book nor felt the need to, I didn't think I would ever read the novel.  But a week ago, it appeared at my local library and I decided to read it.  Unfortunately I believe the last person who had it was sick because the minute I started to read it, I began to sneeze.  Thereafter I experienced the worst cold/flu virus I ever had in the past few years.  No doubt, I have only solidified the germs on this copy of the book and it will continue to be a Typhoid Mary of the library world.

The Casual Vacancy was indeed a return to top form by Rowling.  All the best elements of the Potter series were in play with tight plotting and good characterization.  I will admit though that some of Rowling's worst faults as a writer were also in the book as well.  Rowling has a tendency to be too glib and to use caricatures as characters (especially when her story does not favor them).  One character, who serves as a part time villain, is overweight.  Rowling describes him in derogatory fashion with barely any sympathetic insights.  However toward the end of the novel Rowling does go to some lengths to give the character's side of the story regarding his physical condition.  But by that point it is too late, the character's weight has already been treated as a nasty joke and indicator of his personality for almost the whole novel.  This is a very real fault in Rowling's writing and I really hope she fights against this failing.  In my opinion it continually kept ruining the Potter series and made much of it rather nasty when it shouldn't have been.

While this new novel is not great literature, it is an interesting potboilery portrait of a small, sleepy English town.  I had a good visual of the type of town it was and how the characters fit into its life.  There was a nice motif regarding how problems from a nearby bigger town was spilling over into the smaller community.  However there was no real resolution to this problem.  Not that there had to be, but it would have been nicer for there to be more at stake for the town as a whole to be rid of its skidrow area.  I get that Rowling likes to be consciencious and supportive of lost causes because that is liberal and good.  But to be a stronger writer, I wish she would have explored, with some sympathy, why the town wanted to be rid of the government assisted living area.  The town may be full of small minded people but they were working class trying to aspire to something a little better.  The town was pulled down from its aspirations through no fault of the townspeople.  They pay their taxes because the town is lovely and moved to the area because it was so.  It is perfectly understandable that they wouldn't want drug abusers and welfare people pushed onto their doorsteps.

Well at the end, I wasn't sorry to read this book.  It is a good effort and shows that the first 3 books of the Harry Potter series were no fluke.  Rowling does have the goods.  I would say she needs a little more maturity and less of a desire to please.  Or maybe, to start, a fearless editor who could point out the faults without worrying about the ego of the Harry Potter author.

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