J.K. Rowling has sold 450 million copies of her books. So, of course people will compare her new book to her Harry Potter series. I was determined not to read any reviews before I read it myself. I made the mistakes of seeing how many stars people were giving it on goodreads. It told me that people were judging it pretty hard. I closed the site and didn't look at anything else until I finished the book.
The Casual Vacancy begins when Barry Fairbrother, a Parish Counselor (a member of their small town government), dies of a brain aneurism. After his death, the town has a "casual vacancy" within the counsel. Sounds pretty boring, but I gave Rowling a chance. The book was difficult to get into initially. I found myself almost blacking out; turning pages but not remembering what they were about. There were so many characters and I couldn't keep them straight!! About a quarter way in, things started to fall into place. I was right to trust the author; the book started to get good.
Rowling has the ability to create characters in a way that the reader can actually understand what they are thinking, see their facial expressions, and interpret their emotions. Very reminiscent of Peyton Place (the New York Times also saw the resemblance), The Casual Vacancy depicts the lives of the inhabitants of a seemingly average small town and examines real life issues; martial woes, teen bullying, rape, heroin abuse, child neglect, socioeconomic status clashing, self-entitlement, mental heath issues, teenage lust, self-mutilation, and domestic violence.
The underlying theme was to examine people on the outside and then discover how different they are when you get inside their heads and know their thoughts. The characters were all twisted; mothers dreaming about underage boys, parents disliking their children, children trying to ruin their parents lives, and teens trying to get pregnant in order to get out of the projects. The story builds up to a final climax which will finally change all of the characters.
Overall, I was slightly let down. I did not enjoy the political side of the story. I did enjoy the way the characters all intertwined with one another and how all of their stories came full circle at the end of the book. It's not memorable based on the plot alone. It was a good; but it is not memorable. I can see myself forgetting the plot all together in a few years. I give the book 3/5 stars for plot and 4/5 stars for character development and theme.
If you are going to read this book, don't compare it to Harry Potter. It is NOTHING like Harry Potter. There is no magic or adventure. Read it with an open mind and without expectations.