Today’s book review of The Casual Vacancy is brought to us by the fabulous Melissa Robinson Navarro, author of the wonderful blog The Bright Side. She is one of my favorite bloggers and shares a love for all things books and reading. I’m so happy to share this guest post with you today! Without further ado, here is Melissa’s post!
Beyond Harry Potter
Like many of you, I fell in love with J.K. Rowling a few pages in to the first Harry Potter book. She showed a wonderfully engaging writing style that pulled me in and let me get completely lost in her fantasy world. I was hooked, and I devoured the entire series. So of course when I learned that she had written a new book I had to read it.
The Casual Vacancy is Rowling’s first novel for adults, and the first time that she completely breaks from the Harry Potter world that she has lived in for so long. The book is set in Pagford, an outwardly picture-perfect English village with cobbled streets and flower boxes in every window. But when a member of the town government suddenly dies (leaving a “casual vacancy” in the parish council) the nasty political race that follows proves that dirty little secrets are hidden everywhere.
The only drawback with this book (and one that almost always happens with books like this) is that the setting and cast of characters is so involved and complicated that it takes much too long to establish the back-story. We are nearly halfway through the book before the characters are solidified enough to remember and the action can really begin. After trudging through the first half, however, the payoff is definitely worth it.
One last word of caution that I must offer: if you are a person who needs likable characters in order to enjoy a story, this book is not for you. (I didn’t have a problem with it, but I know some people really need characters that they can fall in love with.) Rowling’s character development completely works, and the story is compelling, but there isn’t a single “good guy” in the book. Everyone is flawed. Everyone has dirty secrets. Most of the people are nasty and rather despicable. You won’t love them, but you can’t help but want to know what they do next.
The thing that I loved most about this book is that it is completely different from Rowling’s earlier work, and yet equally well-written. I think this was a very good choice for her, to show that she is not just a “one trick pony” (if you’ll pardon the expression.) All too often I think writers tend to fall into one theme that eventually leads to a very deep rut from which there is no escape. And while we may still enjoy their work, it does tend to get a little old and somewhat predictable after a while. I was very glad to see Jo flex her muscles a bit with this novel and show that she isn’t, for now at least, rut-bound.
And that’s the take-away from this experience, I think. Not so much the story itself, but the larger implications of what the author did with it. Because it’s tempting, isn’t it, to rely on the safety of the known rather than take a chance on something new? When we find something that works, our natural inclination is to stick with it and ride it out for as long as we can. And that can work.
But if we step outside of what has been working and take a chance on what might work, who knows what new and exciting opportunities can open up? Sure, we might stumble a bit. But we will also develop our skills in new ways, and quite possibly discover talents that we didn’t even know were there. I’m quite sure that J.K. Rowling could have simply ridden her Harry Potter success for the rest of her life. But instead she chose to keep going, and to do something completely new and different. And for that, I thank her.
About the author:
Melissa is a full-time wife and mother and an armature philosopher who loves to write about everything from raising geeky kids to living with chronic pain, and anything in between that happens to come up. She is an eternal optimist, and even when life tries to get her down she can always find a bright side to the situation. Seriously. She can find a reason to see the glass as half full, even when it appears that there is no glass.