The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
JK Rowling's first foray into fiction since the Harry Potter franchise was bound to bring with it much expectation, but I tried to leave off too much forethought. A good book by a solid author is all I was hoping for - not fantasy or fabulousness. But one of the things that made the Harry Potter series so compelling DID, in fact, factor into what made this a five-star book; I would argue the most important thing - the character development.
The book begins with a death, and we meet many characters touched by that death, and some not so touched, within the small town in which it takes place. The death leaves a "Casual Vacancy" on the city board, which stirs up the sleepy town of Pagford. These characters, their ties to the deceased, to the town, to the issues facing the board, are all plumbed deeply and delicately. You see the best of some of the more distasteful characters, and the worst of some of the pristine members of society. Rowling did an excellent job (as is expected from the woman who wrote not only Harry Potter, but James Potter, Draco Malfoy, and Severus Snape) of making the point through her characters that human beings are rich, complex, often sad and wounded, but also capable of love, compassion, and heartbreak. Despite the fact that few of the characters in the book are simply likeable, you care about them. I found myself often sympathising with a character I had been sighing with distaste at only moments before.
I've begun to watch some British television lately, and it makes me think The Casual Vacancy is an extremely British book. It is not whiz-bang, flash and pop action and constant movement, in the way consumptive Americans often expect and need in order for their interest to be held (and I say this as an American myself, mind). It is subtle and delicate and rich and beautiful. It is often slow, quiet, and gentle, though there is a ferocity beneath the surface as well.
This book is not Harry Potter. It is not for children, it is not fantastical, or adventurous. But it is deeply human, and very much worth your time.
I listened to the Audible version of The Casual Vacancy, and the narration, too, was fantastic. It was not over-the-top, with voices varying just enough to clue you in to the speaker, but not so much that you flinched at the male narrator's attempt at a feminine voice. His tone was soothing but not lulling, and the pacing and articulation were spot-on.
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