At 5:15pm last Thursday afternoon, I walked into my local book store in the city, grabbed a copy of the book and placed it on the counter, readying myself to pay. The sales assistant started scanning it through and as she did so, I asked her how many of this particular book she had sold already. ‘I think about ten now. I’ll be interested to see how many we sell before we close tonight.’ Ok, so ten doesn’t seem like a lot of copies, but you need to know that particular book had only been on the shelves since 5pm that afternoon. That’s right, in the space of 15 minutes, ten copies of that one book had been sold. As I walked out of the store, I looked around at the other customers and every single one of them had a copy of that same book I was leaving with.
I wouldn’t exactly say that I have grown up with Harry Potter. I probably didn’t discover the magic of J.K. Rowling until my mid teens. That particular series of books though, will always have a place on my book shelf and always be special to me. I remember the excitement and exhilaration I felt in my late teens and early twenties, at the release of the final four books and I recall not wanting to go to work when the final instalment was released, because I just wanted to stay home and read it (I still managed to read it in two days, despite having to go to work). But when I heard that J.K. Rowling was releasing a novel that was angled towards adults, I wasn’t overly excited. I felt strangely betrayed – how could she stop writing such magical stories for children and start writing for adults? It didn’t seem right. So I thought that I would wait until I had seen a couple of reviews, then maybe I would read it. Maybe. Obviously my curiosity got the better of me, seeing as how I flounced out of the book shop with my copy of The Casual Vacancy dangling from my arm in it’s plastic bag.
I’ll admit now that I felt just the teensiest bit excited as I walked away from the book shop. What would it be like? Would it be worth the hype surrounding it? Or would Jo Rowling have written a fizzler? The answers to these questions – amazing; most definitely yes; hell no. The Casual Vacancy is so far removed from the world of Harry and co., that you can not compare them. Harry’s world is full of magic and friendship. But now Rowling has brought us back to reality. And the reality is, is that life is pretty crap for some and that there are plenty of people out there that don’t care about those that need help. As much as they try to pretend they care, deep down they have a prejudice that they will never shake free. The friendships in this book are hollow and the only magic in this book, is the skill with which Rowling has told the stories of these largely small minded people. It is true that when a person dies that they leave a gap in the lives of the people who knew and loved them, but when that person has strong ties to all aspects of a small community, they don’t just leave a gap. They leave a canyon. The death of Barry Fairbrother in the opening chapter of this book does just that and over the course of the book we see the community gradually implode on itself, culminating in an event at the end that will (in the words of Rowling herself), “have you bawling.”
This book is proof that Rowling is a great writer (not that I didn’t suspect as much). I’m sure that there are plenty of authors who have written books for children, then tried to write adult fiction, or vice versa, and not been at all successful in the attempt. Not the case here. As with Harry Potter, you become completely immersed into the lives of these people. There are characters that you despise, others that you love and some that you can compare to someone that you know. While not close to her previous work in any way, shape or form in regards to plot, Rowling has written this book just as well. I always find it harder to get into books that are based in reality as opposed to ones that revolve around magic or are from another time. But I had not trouble at all this time. Rowling’s gift of storytelling shines through as you make your way through the book and while she may not need to publish ever again, I truly hope that she does so. Whether they are for children or adults, I know that any future books will be amazing, because how can anyone that good at what to do, write something terrible?
RATING – 10 out of 10. While it has received mixed reviews, I don’t believe critics matter. You don’t write for critics, you write for readers.
WHO SHOULD READ IT – Anyone who loved Harry Potter (which is everyone, right?) and is curious to see what her adult fiction is like. Having said that, no Potter fans under that age of 17 should read this. It is quite explicit at times and not for the eyes of children.
WHO YOU’LL LOVE – There’s not too many lovable characters in this book. I think I felt the most attached to Krystal Weedon though – not because she was overky likable, but because I felt sorry for the life she found herself in.