Book Review: The Casual Vacancy

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Title: The Casual Vacancy
Author: J.K. Rowling
First Published: 2012
My Rating: 4 of 5 stars (average rating on Goodreads: 3.30 )
Format: Hardback, 503 pages
First line: Barry Fairbrother did not want to go out to dinner

From Goodreads:

When Barry Fairbrother dies in his early forties, the town of Pagford is left in shock.
Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, but what lies behind the pretty façade is a town at war. Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils … Pagford is not what it first seems. And the empty seat left by Barry on the parish council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen. Who will triumph in an election fraught with passion, duplicity and unexpected revelations?


I don’t think I’ve ever been this anxious and nervous about reading a book. I promised myself that I would give this book a fair chance, wipe the slate completely clean and forget that Rowling is the author of the Harry Potter series.
But I couldn’t help comparing it to Harry Potter. I’m only human, after all.

My initial reaction was that she is trying too hard. Rowling really gets around a lot of tough issues: domestic violence, rape, poverty, cutters, bullying, drugs, abandoned kids … you name it. Perhaps a bit much crammed into one novel. A part of me kept thinking “Oh, she’s just doing this to erase Harry Potter, to prove that she’s writing for adults now”.

Maybe she was. I was initially thinking that I might not like the book because of this. But I still enjoyed the story. And then I found myself thinking and worrying about the characters when I wasn’t reading. Then there’s no denying it: Only good books make you do that!

I realized that Rowling’s just doing what she always does best: she uses her creativity, imagination and writing skills so well and creates believable characters that you come to love and care for, for better or for worse. And she doesn’t mind breaking the reader’s heart: she knows that life is rough and that bad things happen to good people.

I must say that I fell for this book: it made me sad but it sure as hell also made me laugh out loud. It could be so absurd! The drunken housewife obsessed with the boy band, how fun was that!

The only thing that bothered me was that it was a bit difficult to keep track of all the characters. I got them a bit mixed up and had to really concentrate when the point of view shifted. I should probably have been taking notes …

I highly recommend this book to anyone who likes a good story, great characters and some laughs. I’m really looking forward to the TV-series. And what Rowling’s got in store for us next!

I found this interview with Rowling where she talks about reading and writing:
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Jeg tror ikke, at jeg nogensinde før har været så nervøs for at læse en bog. Jeg lovede mig selv, at jeg ville give denne bog en fair chance, viske tavlen helt ren og glemme, at Rowling er forfatter bag Harry Potter-serien.

Men jeg kunne ikke lade være med at sammenligne den med Harry Potter. Jeg er trods alt kun et menneske.

Min første reaktion var, at hun prøver for meget. Rowling kommer virkelig rundt om en masse hårde emner: vold i hjemmet, voldtægt, fattigdom, piger der skærer sig, mobning, narko … you name it. Det er måske lidt meget for en enkelt roman.

En del af mig kunne ikke lade være med at tænke, at hun bare gør dette for at slippe af med Harry Potter, for at bevise, at hun skriver for voksne nu”.

Og måske er det det hun gjorde. Til at starte med følte jeg, at jeg ikke kunne lide bogen på grund af dette. Men jeg kunne alligevel godt lide historien. Og så tog jeg mig selv i at tænke og bekymre sig om personerne, når jeg var væk fra bogen. Så er der ingen tvivl om det: Det er kun gode bøger, der kan få dig til det!

Jeg indså, at Rowling bare gør det hun altid gør bedst: Hun bruger sin kreativitet, fantasi og skrivefærdigheder til at skabe troværdige karakterer, som man kommer til at holde af. Og hun har ikke noget imod at knuse sin læsers hjerte: hun ved, at livet er hårdt og at dårlige ting kan og vil ske for gode mennesker.

Jeg må sige, at jeg faldt for denne bog: den gjorde mig trist, men den fik mig godt nok også til at grine højt. Historien var til tider så absurd! Især historien om den halvalkoholiserede husmor, der blev besat af et drengeband …

Det eneste, der generede mig var, at det var lidt svært at holde styr på alle personerne. Jeg kunne ikke altid holde helt styr på dem og måtte virkelig koncentrere mig, når bogen skiftede synsvinkel. Jeg burde nok have taget noter …

Jeg kan stærkt anbefale denne bog til alle, der kan lide en god historie, sjove personligheder og nogle gode grin. Jeg ser virkelig frem til TV-serien. Og hvad Rowling ellers har i vente for os næste gang!

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4 thoughts on “Book Review: The Casual Vacancy

  1. I’ve debated reading this book so many times. I really want to read it, but I’m nervous about reading something from Rowling that isn’t Harry Potter. I may just need to bite the bullet and give it an honest and fair read.

    • Yes, the best thing is probably to try to forget that the author is Rowling and just imagine that it’s a debut … but I found it very difficult to do this! It took about 100 pages, I think, before I could read it as a ‘normal’ novel.

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