I think that JK Rowling has found herself in the same position as Daniel Radcliffe. No matter what variety of film young Daniel chooses, it seems he is forever doomed to be viewed as “the boy that was Harry.” Similarly, in spite of all of the fanfare surrounding the release of The Casual Vacancy as Rowlings first “adult” novel, I couldn’t help but spend the entirety of the book wishing I was reading Harry Potter. Worse, it seems that Rowling wished she was writing another Harry.
There are a lot of characters in the book. As in, at least a dozen people. By the time I figured out who was who and how they were connected to each other, I was ¾ of the way through the book. The term “casual vacancy” refers to “when a counsel seat becomes vacant through a death.” In this case, Barry Fairbrother is the counsel member that dies at the hands of an unexpected aneurism (as if any aneurism is expected). This death immediately spawns gossip amongst the town of Pagford regarding the circumstances of the death as well as who will fill the vacant position. Several community members immediately step forward to campaign for the empty seat, but an anonymous source claiming to be “the ghost of Barry Fairbrother” begins to post unflattering truths about each candidate on the community website. The town gossips have a field day with this new information, and it throws an interesting spin on the campaign as more and more secrets come to light.
Through profane dialogue, vivid descriptions of sexual conquest, and all-around debauchery that would make Harry blush, Rowling creates a world in which the teenagers stoop to depths that can only be exceeded by Pagford’s adults. By the end, Rowling has found her flow and the writing seems to be quick and easy (much like the novel’s token skank, Crystal). However, it takes Rowling quite some time to achieve this smooth writing style that comes so naturally to her in her previous novels. It feels like she is trying too hard to appeal to grown-ups. In particular, the frequency of the f-bomb paired with rampant sexual escapades comes across as forced; it is as if Rowling peppers the novel with these qualities in an attempt to appeal to her perception of what adults want to read. The Casual Vacancy picks up steam by its conclusion, but truth be told, I’d much rather read Harry.