Author’s post-Potter debut overcomes some contrived mature themes to deliver an engaging look at human nature
Feel free to repeat that to yourself as many times as necessary while reading The Casual Vacancy. That’s not to say that J.K. Rowling’s latest book doesn’t deliver, but the author’s return to writing after a five-year hiatus is a darker message to an older audience.
Having said that after the Potter series she wanted to write adult fiction, Rowling succeeded in tackling some mature topics, including drug abuse, obsessive compulsive disorder and rape. At times, these themes feel contrived, leading the reader to wonder if Rowling intended this novel to be her antithesis to Potter. Even Disney stars Britney Spears and Miley Cyrus started singing risqué songs and declaring their independence: is this Rowling’s way of asserting that her Hogwarts days are over?
While Harry may be behind her, Rowling’s career as a writer is not slowing down. The Casual Vacancy matches her previous works with its pace and enthusiasm, offering humour in tough situations. Rowling sets The Casual Vacancy in the fictional, quintessentially English town of Pagford, where quaint pubs and chip shops mask the racist, sexist and skewed views of its nasty residents. The book begins with the death of a prominent town figure, and the façade of Pagford slowly starts to unravel. As the characters are left to deal with the death and an upcoming civic election, the novel begins to twist and turn in typical Rowling fashion.
The book is gripping and engaging, and Rowling’s ability to weave a believable plot is her greatest gift as a writer. Numerous characters are introduced early on; however, a few are missing real depth or emotion. The strongest characters are the male teenagers of Pagford, who seem to be the only ones who can see how rotten Pagford is.
The book comes to a slow close, tying up plot points the reader has been obsessing over since the first chapter. The Casual Vacancy offers some subtle lessons about human behavior and reminds us that even the most normal people are capable of asinine things. This is a definite page-turner, proving that the magic isn’t in Harry, but in Rowling herself.
OVERALL GRADE: B+