I received a copy of JK Rowling’s first adult novel, ‘The Casual Vacancy’ for Christmas, and started reading it last week. I finished it this morning, so I now feel I should share my thoughts.
I really, really enjoyed ‘The Casual Vacancy’ – although it generally received positive reviews from critics, a few people had noted that Rowling comes across as trying to “prove herself” as an adult author, in a way, by dropping F-bombs and including sex scenes very early in the novel. Personally, I didn’t see any issue with this. Yes, at times, it was weird to think that it was written by the same woman who brought us the dangerous-yet-still-oddly-innocent adventures of Harry, Ron and Hermione, but I found it took virtually no time at all to distance myself from this fact and to treat ‘The Casual Vacancy’ as a distinct kind of book from Rowling’s ‘Harry Potter’ series – a kind of book crafted by a clearly worldly-wise and intellectual woman.
Although I adored, and still do adore, the ‘Harry Potter’ books, there were times when I read them and thought “this writing style lacks…something”. Sure, I always thought Rowling was a wonderful storyteller and I always loved her descriptions throughout ‘Harry Potter’, but it definitely came across as being written in a simple, easy-for-children-to-follow style. I was pleasantly surprised when I read ‘The Casual Vacancy’, to learn that Rowling’s vocabulary and writing style is, in fact, mature, poetic and emotive. She crafts every sentence in ‘The Casual Vacancy’ with elegance and poise.
I don’t want to reveal too much about the plot for fear of ruining it for anyone, but there are few points I must make:
1. I was highly impressed with the way Rowling handled the subject of OCD. Contrary to popular belief, OCD is not just an obsession with order and cleanliness. OCD is a mental illness, as damaging as the likes of schizophrenia, depression or bi-polar disorder, which causes the sufferer to believe they are responsible for various wrongdoings, and can often cause the sufferer to become convinced they are going to do terrible things; beliefs which can usually only be quelled by routines and rituals. The character in ‘The Casual Vacancy’ who suffers from OCD, Colin “Cubby” Wall, is exemplary of these beliefs. This just goes to show how much research Rowling must have done to ensure she did justice to real-life problems, and did not fall into all-too-common traps of assuming preconceived knowledge to be fact. This is evident in her depiction of other issues raised in the novel, such as social work, addiction, local politics and depression.
2. Coming from a small town where it seems everyone knows everyone’s business, the war between the residents of Pagford definitely rings true. Everything about it seems accurate – the gossip, the rumours, the older residents bad-mouthing those whose lives they really know nothing about, the battle between the conservative older generation and the younger, more liberal generation…
3. The end absolutely tore me up! I shall say no more, but I recommend having tissues at the ready. Everything comes to a head very quickly in the last 100 pages or so, leading to a shocking ending. I can feel a “book hangover” coming on already…
My overall rating? 8.5/10.