I feel as if I have to begin this review by stating that I was absolutely not expecting Harry Potter, or anything like it. I knew better than that, and I was okay with it. I actually do think that J.K. Rowling is a talented story teller outside of the Harry Potter series...but I also think that this book was a rush job (which is sad to say considering the last Harry Potter book came out over 5 years ago, but what can you do). Or maybe I'm wrong. Maybe it wasn't a rush job, but rather the opposite - maybe too much time went into it?
Regardless, the fact of the matter is that The Casual Vacancy was, simply, Not Good. Not the worst book I've ever read, but I have to ask...did they just decide, "Oh, this is J.K. Rowling, she doesn't need an editor!" ??? Because the run-on sentences and comma splices in this novel were, in a word, rampant.
But even if you ignore the terrible editing job - or, dare I say it, the terrible writing (at least in the grammatical sense of that word) - in general I couldn't shake the feeling that Rowling was simply trying far too hard to be "edgy". Now, I love me some books with questionable content - most of my favorites deal with some pretty serious issues - but not one single character in The Casual Vacancy is likeable. I honestly didn't care what happened to any of them. At all. And this took the story to the point of being unrealistic, though I know that what Rowling was attempting was to make it completely realistic.
I think that the main issue with The Casual Vacancy is that Rowling peopled her novel with an entire [albeit small] town's worth of characters - far too many of whose points of view she tried to capture - and every one of them had ridiculously over-exaggerated negative qualities. Except for the [SPOILER ALERT] character who died in the very beginning, who was apparently [nearly, and also unbelievably] absolutely perfect. Oh, and a side note - while I noted above that far too many of the characters in The Casual Vacancy had point of view chapters, pages, paragraphs, whatever - personally I'm used to reading books with a lot of characters and didn't get tripped up by the number in this book. I only want to point that out because I feel that it's important to note that my disliking this novel and its characters had nothing to do with how many there were in general or with any sort of confusion over who was who on my part.
The thing is, I did want to like this novel. I'd heard not-so-great things about it, but I did my best to read it with an open mind. Unfortunately, in the end I just couldn't wrap my head around what exactly Rowling was trying to accomplish in writing it. It was drawn out, often very slow and boring, and I honestly did not care what happened to any of the characters. There are simply so many books out there that visit humanity's dark side and do it well...and The Casual Vacancy is not one of them. 1.5/5 stars.
"The mistake ninety-nine percent of humanity made, as far as Fats could see, was being ashamed of what they were; lying about it, trying to be somebody else. Honesty was Fats' currency, his weapon and defense. It frightened people when you were honest; it shocked them. Other people, Fats had discovered, were mired in embarrassment and pretense, terrified that their truths might leak out...
"The difficult thing, the glorious thing, was to be who you really were...There was courage in not disguising the animal you happened to be."