After sitting on my bookshelf for three years (and multiple attempts to make it past the first twenty or so pages), I finally decided it was time to give J.K. Rowling’s first non-Potter book The Casual Vacancy my full attention. I’d read and enjoyed her two mystery novels and hoped that maybe having read those, I wouldn’t be looking for bits of magic and fantasy in the novel. I will also admit I was motivated by curiosity about the mini-series and I’m enough of a bibliophile that I don’t generally like to watch the adaptation without reading the book first.
And so, I was determined to read The Casual Vacancy. And I did.
And I didn’t actually care for it all that much.
Now before all the Rowling fans get up in arms and start heading up the mountain with pitchforks and torches, let me say that I felt the novel had an interesting starting point and the first third of it actually held my attention and had my intrigued to see what would come next. When council member Barry Fairbrother passes away suddenly, he leaves an opening on the council and some gaps in the lives of his family and the people he touched. I’ll admit that early on, I was intrigued by the lives of the various people that Barry’s life touched and how his death had an impact on them.
But somewhere around the middle third of the book, I started to lose track of characters, their relationships to each other and their general story arc. Part of this I blame on an excessive number of characters in the book and part of I blame on Rowling for not really having much for them to do in the middle third of the book but tread water. It all means that by the final third of the novel, I’d lost most of my interest in most of the characters and couldn’t help but wonder if Rowling couldn’t or shouldn’t have wrapped things up sooner. Or perhaps had a better editor. I have a feeling if this one hadn’t had the name J.K. Rowling on the manuscript it might have got a tighter editing and been a better book.
As it stands, Rowling’s first post-Potter offering is a bit of a disappointment. Thankfully, she’s shown off some skills in the mystery genre since this one hit the shelves.