J.K. Rowling’s ‘Casual Vacancy’ disappoints ardent Harry Potter fan

I started reading “The Casual Vacancy” by J.K. Rowling at the beginning of junior year. Since then, I’ve started it four other times, never actually finishing it.

To be fair, my inability to make it to the end isn’t really the book’s fault. Between my four AP classes, The Octagon and Youth Symphony, I didn’t have an excess of free reading time.

“The Casual Vacancy” wasn’t unique in being the only book I didn’t finish junior year. I also started “Life of Pi” by Yann Martel, “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” by Jonathan Safran Foer, “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell, “Paper Towns” by John Green and “Matched” by Ally Condie, yet I didn’t make it to the end of any of them.

But once the school year ended, I promised myself I would finish “The Casual Vacancy.”

This sixth attempt proved a success—after a few weeks of reading, I finally read the last page.

My happiness at my accomplishment was diminished, though, by the book itself. Sure, the ending is just about as depressing as is possible, but my reaction was more due to the writing itself.

As a long-time lover of the Harry Potter series, also written by Rowling, I was expecting a masterpiece: a more mature example of her remarkable writing. Instead, I was put through 500 pages of beautiful sentences that left me feeling detached rather than inspired.

Rowling’s novel focuses on the effect of parish councillor Barry Fairbrother’s sudden death on the close-knit and secret-filled community of Pagford, a small English village. Each chapter is written from the point of view of a different person or family, often bringing out the corruptibility and poverty of Pagford.

The problem was that there were no characters that I could relate to in the entire book. I didn’t have many shared experiences or thoughts with any of them. Sure, I felt sorry for a lot of the people, and I certainly pitied a few of them. But there was no common ground that could make me feel like I was included in the story.

The character I felt closest to was Andrew, mainly because he’s a teenager and he’s not into cutting himself  or tormenting his parents, as are the book’s other teenagers. But there are still some problems. For instance, he likes smoking pot and watching porn, has an abusive father, and starts the scandal that is the ultimate destruction of Pagford.

It would be fine if the teenagers were the only ones I didn’t identify with. However, all the characters have qualities that make them not only unlikeable, but unrelatable.

So, ultimately, I almost wish I hadn’t fulfilled my end-of-year vow. My sparkling view of Rowling has been tarnished, something I thought wasn’t possible.

Now I’m going to go speed-read Harry Potter again to to get the bad taste of “The Casual Vacancy” out of my mouth.


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