Book Review: A Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

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Published: 2012

I first tried reading this book about two-three years back when one of my friends at university lent it to me. However, it was in the midst of essay season and adding another non-required book to my ever growing pile seemed like a poor decision and so I abandoned it after about two chapters. To be quite honest it failed to capture me, rather the huge array of characters I struggled to follow.

This time around, I really wanted to give the book a proper chance. Just as a side note: Aside from the wonderful Harry Potter series, I have also read Rowling’s detective genre novel The Cuckoo’s Calling and I absolutely loved it, so I really don’t think I have the Harry Potter bias. Plus, no matter what people say out there I genuinely think she is a wonderful storyteller and writer, so I enjoy reading her books for the style not only the plot.

Having said that I have to admit that this book is my least favourite pieces of her work. It’s not the worst I ever read but I know she can do better. I was prepared to be bombarded with lots of characters, so writing them all down including the relationship they had with each other really helped me to map out and remember who everyone is, because she does switch from one character to another every chapter. Midway through I felt comfortable and barely ever had to look at my notes of the characters, but it was always there to save me just in case.

This is not by any means a plot driven novel. Measuring over 560 pages, and very little actually happens. I think what Rowling wanted to focus on was human interactions and human psychology. You learn about each character’s flaws and secrets, instead of being taken on an adventure. It’s differs greatly from her other books.

I really like how she created a large array of characters, all really have their own demons to try fend off. From disinterested housewife Shirley, who becomes quite obsessed with younger men,to struggling drug addict Mrs. Wheedon, to Gavin who struggles to find love for his girlfriend who has recently moved all the way from London to be with him. This is just a tip of the iceberg, as every single character goes through a personal drama. On one side, I really like that each character is flawed since it does make them more real. The dilemma for me is that I don’t like any single character. There are a couple, Shirley and Howard in particular that I find flat out boring. I guess that is the risk of having so much variety.

Verdict: Loved Rowling’s writing style, not much to the plot and much more about exploring human psychology and sociology. Most characters I found unlikeable (probably done on purpose?).

Have you read anything by JK Rowling outside of Harry Potter? How did you find it?

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3 thoughts on “Book Review: A Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

  1. I love a long detailed book but i need an interesting plot. I havent read all the HPs or her other books but I do like the stuff i have read. I’ll give the mystery a try

  2. I’m not sure if this one will be for me; I’ve read The Cuckoo’s Calling and although I didn’t love it, it was still entertaining. A Casual Vacancy doesn’t seem like my cup of tea though with the multiple (unlikeable) character studies and lack of plot… I’ll probably try out The Silkworm first and leave this one on my ‘maybe’ pile. 😉

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