I’d had J.K. Rowling’s new novel “The Casual Vacancy” on hold since York County Libraries pre-ordered it months ago. I loved the Harry Potter series, and I was eagerly anticipating Rowling’s dive into adult novels.
Which is why, frankly, it stinks that “The Casual Vacancy” disappointed me so much.
A review from the Associated Press warned readers that magic was nowhere to be found, but Rowling still provides a story with emotion and heart. And that’s fair — I didn’t expect a continuation of Harry Potter.
And to the AP’s credit, the emotion does arrive in last 100 pages or so. But in a 503-page novel, it’s just not enough.
“The Casual Vacancy” tells the story of a quiet English town and its reactions to the sudden death of councilman Barry Fairbrother. Turns out, most people in the sleepy suburb (and adjoining lower-income housing projects) have secrets.
I struggled at first to distinguish between characters — they’re introduced fairly quickly, and although I latched on to a few of the more central narrators, plenty of them swam together in my mind even as the novel continued.
If a book doesn’t grab me with its characters, I expect it to do so with its action. But I feel as if Rowling faltered there, too. It takes far too many pages for me to feel engaged in the novel because not enough is at stake. Gossip circulates, the middle class looks down on the lower-income families, teens grapple with crushes and friendships and conversations are peppered with tedious detail.
There’s far more vulgarity, drug abuse and sexuality than I expected, too, although I don’t necessarily count that against the novel, because I realize each reader has his or her own preferences on how tame or wild a novel should be. But it’s worth noting for younger readers who might make the jump because of a love for “Harry Potter.”
Toward the end — and to her credit — Rowling does introduce an emotional twist, and I sped rather quickly through the final fifth of the novel. But for a truly great novel, it can’t take 400 pages to engage a reader. And because of that, I have to say I wasn’t impressed with “The Casual Vacancy.”
Have you picked up the novel? What did you think when you finished?