…It was called, The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling. Here’s what I thought about it:
I think even the most ardent Harry Potter fan would agree that by the time author J.K. Rowling wrapped up the last page of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows, it was time for something a bit different.
With her bestselling series, Rowling created a world that was both magical and relatable…a perfect balance of wiz-bang fantasy and boo-hoo teenage bullshit. It was pretty great. But the titular hero of these novels was only one person in the vast world his author created. After seven novels of wizards and ghosts and goblins and horcruxes and hippopotamugriffins, it was time for Rowling to step back and start exploring the other facets of her world.
“What about all the fucking muggles,” I’d occasionally ask myself while reading the umpteenth page of Potter bemoaning all the bad stuff that constantly happened to him. “Just what the hell are all the muggles doing right now?”
Fortunately, I seem to have some kind of one-way telepathic link to Rowling, because her newest book set in the Harry Potter world focuses solely on these lovable, powerless creatures. It’s all the better for it.
Called, The Casual Vacancy because that’s its name, the novel centers the small muggle village of Pagford and highlights all the crazy skullduggery its wacky residents get up to after one of their councilmen drops dead for no visible reason.
My theory: Dementors.
While the plot of this hefty tome is about a loose as Cho Chang’s lips — a bunch of people hate each other and either want or don’t want to see an addiction clinic shut down — plotting has never really been Rowling’s strong point in the first place. Rowling’s good at coming up with cool character names and then attaching genuinely interesting characters to those cool character names. And even though The Casual Vacancy is filled with all manner of sort-of wretched people, Rowling makes each and every one of them somewhat relatable. They may be doing awful things, but I kind of get why they’re doing awful things.
Like a castle rat gradually digesting in Fawkes’ stomach, the novel is a bit of a slow burn. Unlike her previous books, Rowling choose to avoid opening with a lot of flash; you’ll find no Quiddich World Cups or magically-inflated aunts here. But, given time, the story and characters begin to ferment like the sweetest butter beer. Pretty soon, you’re slamming back pages one-after-another like a Hogwarts freshman until you’re flat-faced drunk. Sure, you might not remember what you’ve read by the next morning and you’re pretty sure you made a pass at Dolores Umbridge, but it was pretty fun while you were doing it.
Much like Dobby waiting in line at a public restroom after downing a few bottles of 5 Hour Energy, the quality of Rowling’s writing frequently jumps up and down. At worst, it’s workmanlike; at best, it’s pretty darn poetic. She’s definitely technically proficient at her job, so reading the novel is never a chore.
The Casual Vacancy represents a bold new direction for J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world, one I’m hoping to revisit on another occasion. Even though I’m not able to read her mind as she can mine, methinks Rowling will milk this new setting for all that it’s worth. I can’t wait to get a gander at the eighteen blockbuster movies Hollywood makes out of this terrific fantasy tale.