I'm not really sure how I feel about this book. I want to love it, I really do. I love J.K Rowling's style, the characters were well crafted and the plot did finally pick up in the last one hundred pages. But that's the problem. It took 400 pages of exposition which moved at a snail-like pace for the story to begin to get interesting.
But before I get to my negatives lets begin with some positive. Rowling's styles has definitely matured since the last Harry Potter. The language and structure is more sophisticated suiting the mature content of the book. Although there are still an abundance of clichés and an overuse of parenthesis, the book is well written.
More importantly Jo has managed to retain her skill at crafting characters, particularly the younger cast. Krystal, Andrew and Sukhvinder, despite severe personal flaws, are engaging characters who you strongly feel for making the tragic ending all the more affecting for the reader. However I do feel that, at times, the cast became too large leading to a convoluted novel with too many different perspectives. I'd much rather have seen a smaller cast who were given more time, allowing them to grow in a subtler and more natural way as at times some of the development felt a little forced.
I'm not sure how to describe the plot of this novel. I wouldn't go as far as some and call it boring but on the other hand it was hardly an engaging read. I suppose at best I'd call it a slow-burn. The beginning half was quite dull and at times a little pointless, however as plot lines began to draw together and the novel made it's way to the climax things thankfully began to pick up leading to a semi-satisfying conclusion. I say semi as I felt some characters could have been given a more complete ending but that's the price of such a large cast.
That's my views on the book itself but quickly I have to talk about one more element of the books content. Specifically Jo's use of sex. I understand that she was trying to make the book adult, but at times (quite frequently actually) I found this forced and didn't feel natural or necessary. I'm not saying that sex shouldn't have been in the book at all. Just not to the extent Rowling used it.
So how do I feel about the Casual Vacancy in one word? Conflicted. A part of me wants to love it. The cast, although vastly too large, were well developed and easy to empathise with and the climax was riveting and I struggled to put the book down past page 400. However up until that point I found the pace too slow and much of it unnecessary. The novel could easily have been much smaller with some stronger editing.
Maybe I'm being overly harsh as I was expecting much more, but my advice is only read this is the synopsis interests you. Don't make my mistake and pick it up just because it says J.K Rowling and you're hoping for a new Harry Potter because you will not find it here.
As the follow up to Harry Potter: 1 and a 1/2 Stars
As a standalone novel: 3 and a 1/2 Stars