Title: The Casual Vacancy
Author: J.K. Rowling
Page count: 505
Rating: 4/5 stars
Yes, I went there. THAT book. Having owned this book since my 23rd birthday (I`m 24 – and a bit- now), it was way overdue for me to read this book. But I finally picked it up last month, and I`m quite glad I did.
Overall, I thought The Casual Vacancy is a good book. The overarching storyline is an interesting one – what happens when a small community so dependent on their rituals and appearances gets disturbed – and executed very well in typical JK Rowling style.
As someone from a small town myself, I can confirm that a lot of the things that happen in the book are perfectly realistic. For example, the whole “we hate that specific part of this tiny town because of reasons” thing definitely happens. And the sheer hatred towards a different town nearby, too. Trust me, I`ve seen this happen countless times.
That said, the sheer amount of separate storylines in this book gets very confusing. After finishing 500+ pages of this book, I`m still not 100% sure who`s who because of the amount of characters with important stories, nicknames, connections to each other, etc. Because of this, the book doesn`t just get very confusing (“wait, wasn`t he the guy who`s married to- oh no, wait”, “ah, whose kid is that again”), I also feel like a lot of characters weren`t done the justice they deserved.
Take one character that I especially liked, Sukhvinder. Her storyline, so brilliantly and slowly unfolded, a tale of bullying, emotional abuse, self harm, insecurity, racial problems, just to have her complicated (mental) problems kind of glossed over in a “she did a good thing once and now everything is a-okay”, which is not how things work and JK Rowling of all people should know.
Another character that had a similar glossed-over ending, but who I very much appreciated in the books (well, eventually at least) was Colin, or Cubby (I think, this is one of those characters who I kept mixing up with other people). I can`t thank JK Rowling enough for giving me a character with lifelong OCD, who still does have a career and a family. She`s shown how difficult it is for both the person with the OCD and the environment, how much struggle there really is and how brutal the reality of this disease can be. And as someone with OCD, I could recognise so much of myself in it, and it has helped me the past week realise a bit more which parts of my thoughts were the OCD talking and which parts weren`t.
This is why representation matters, by the way. But I digress.
Still, despite all its obvious flaws, I had expected this book to be much worse than it actually is. I`d seen so many bad reviews, so many people hating it. But while it might have been really weird at first to read all the swearing after having the relatively child-friendly Harry Potter books, this book felt very strangely refreshing to me. It was a compelling read, I kept wondering what was going to happen and how the myriad of problems were going to be resolved. And suffice to say, the ending was very surprising. This is still JK Rowling after all.
All in all, if you`re not too keen on the Harry Potter books but prefer something realistic but intricate, give this one a go.