Sunday, November 17, 2013

Post Harry Potter Part 1: The Casual Vacancy

J.K. Rowling and my rendition of Robert Galbraith

While I was reading The Cuckoo's Calling and The Casual Vacancy, more people than I can count asked me if it was as good as Harry Potter. I thought it was high time that I addressed my thoughts on J.K. Rowling's post Harry Potter books (one is written under her pseudonym Robert Galbraith) here on SOI. This will be the first in a two part post.

The Casual Vacancy (2012) 

The book begins with the death of a member of the parish council in a small English town. The story follows a variety of characters (impoverished families, addicts, unhappy spouses, delinquent high schoolers, abusive parents, power hungry politicians, etc.) that -in one way or another- tie back to a candidate running for the parish council or a current council member. The overall plot question is "Who will be elected and at what cost?"

If you've read Mercy Among the Children by David Adams Richards, The Casual Vacancy has a very similar feel and style.

What I secretly wanted:

What I got (AKA spoiler free review):
The Casual Vacancy was definitely an adult book and the content was mature. The magic (both literally and figuratively) and innocence of Harry Potter was no where to be found. It felt an awful lot like Rowling was trying too hard to break free from the children's genre that she is known for. The themes were gritty and dark. This book is not for the faint of heart. 

It reminds me of the way the Disney Channel child-stars act out when they become adults *cough* Miley Cyrus *cough* to show the world they're "mature" and no longer a child. Now, I would never put J.K. Rowling and Miley Cyrus (no matter how you feel about her singing) on the same level, but you can see the parallels in their situations.

 Is the new maturity in Rowling's books a bad thing? Not necessarily, it's just different and to enjoy the book you need to come to terms with that. 

Since the cast of characters is so large and the book is constantly jumping around perspectives, it took me awhile to get everything straight. About a hundred and fifty pages in, I felt like I knew the characters fairly well. Considering the amount of characters sharing the spot light, I think J.K. Rowling did a great job with creating believable and round characters. 

Another aspect that Rowling excelled with was the richly layered plot. If you've read HP you know how good she is with twisting subplots and characters all together to create a dramatic story. That particular talent shone through in this book; it was quite a feat to have all the characters connect for the climax. 

My only issues with this book was that it was very depressing and felt hopeless at times, and the strong content in it. I don't have an issue with characters making morally wrong choices or dealing with harsh subject matter in a book, because characters must make mistakes or else we have no story and no message. However, I do have personal standards of what I will read when it comes to how explicitly those actions and harsh subject matter are described. This book really pushed my limits, and I probably would have stopped reading had it been any other book, but I felt obligated to finish this one. 

So am I glad I read it? Yes. Is it well written? Yes. Did I like it? A more hesitant and unsure "yes". Is it like Harry Potter? No. 

Goodreads rating: 3/5

Content Advisory:
Lots of heavy swearing (she is British!), quite sexual, some violence, drug usage, deals with rape and abuse, as well as self harm, and suicide. Basically all those big ticket items are thrown in there somewhere. 

Join me next time as I discuss how to The Cuckoo's Calling by Rowling's pseudonym Robert Galbraith fits into J.K. Rowling's Post Harry Potter period. As always, comment with your thoughts on today's post. Let me know if you've read either of these books or if you're planning on it. I'd love to hear other ideas about this.

Reading: Why Mermaids Sing by C.S. Harris
Listening: Lorde
Watching: Haven  


  1. Rowling is really good at writing large ensemble casts, so it's no surprise that works well in CV. I might pick it up at some point, though I'm a bit on the wimp-ish side about really gritty topics.

    1. If you want to experience some more JK Rowling, minus the grittiness, stay tuned for the follow up post on Cuckoo's Calling!


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