The Casual Vacancy - J.K. Rowling “But who could bear to know which stars were already dead...could anybody stand to know that they all were?”

One day, in the small English town of Pagford, Barry Fairweather dies. This leaves a "casual vacancy" in the Town Council and, more importantly, has a drastic impact in several of the townsfolks' lives.

It's probably a rare person who has not heard of J.K. Rowling, the woman who created the boy who lived. I'm familiar with some of her Harry Potter books (the first three); I rather enjoyed them. When I heard about this book, I was intrigued, but to be honest, the cover blurb just didn't sound interesting. I am not a big fan of "contemporary" novels. The biggest reason I did end up reading this was for my book club. And while there were moments when I thought this book and I weren't going to get along, overall, I was very impressed.

But before I get too far, I want to spend a few moments making a few points clear:

1) This is absolutely, positively NOT Harry Potter for Adults.

2) This book is NOT for children, despite having teenagers starring some pretty major roles. (Maybe OK for mature teens)

3) This is not a "fun" book, filled with magic, adventure and a happily ever after.

If you come into this book expecting to read the adult adventures of Harry Potter, filled with magic and adventure, you will most likely leave disappointed (or abandon ship at page 100). For once, the cover blurb does not lie; for fans of Harry Potter and Rowling, I really, really recommend reading that blurb well before diving in.

With that out of the way...

When I started this novel, I almost got lost. There is an ENORMOUS cast of characters that are slowly introduced. We see their point of view; we watch them go through the day; we see who they interact with and how. The first 150 pages in particular were the slowest, as Rowling is slowly building her cast.

But once that cast is constructed--WOW, what an amazing book! Things really start to flow, the book takes shape, and I flew through pages. This book is highly readable, filled with a varied cast of characters and is incredibly well-plotted.

My favorite characters were probably Krystal Weedon, Tessa Walls, and Andrew Price--though there were plenty of others (Kay, Gaia, Samantha, Sukhvinder) that were stand-outs. My least favorites were Simon Price (what an @$$!), Howard Mollison (what a creep!), and Stuart Walls (what a brat!). But the thing that both my favorites and least favorites have in common is this: they are ALL well-drawn characters, fully-fleshed, interesting, realistic. Rowling knows how to create characters, ones you love to bits and ones you want to chase with a rake. Lord knows how hard it is to create ONE good character in a novel, but so many? It's impressive.

I was impressed with the setting; I've read a lot of books set in different places but haven't really felt as if it were anything extraordinary, almost like those generic towns in old Hollywood movies. Here, the town of Pagford and the Fields almost become characters of their own. They have depth, they feel different and unique.

And finally, the story. This is one that is very deeply character-driven, but it takes a while to build. During that time, it can be slow and laborious. But once all the characters are established, Rowling lets them loose to their final confrontation--one that gripped me by the heart and made me want to weep. It was beautifully circular, it was well-written, it was poignant.

I am not going to go so far and say this is the best book in the world. I'm sure that if Rowling hadn't wrote this, it would be quietly sitting on a shelf in the bookstore collecting dust and not sending the hype generator into overtime. But that's also not to say that this is a terrible book. I rather enjoyed myself reading this and can't believe how relatively quickly I went through 500 pages.

If you are considering reading Rowling's adult venture, I want to make this perfectly clear: this is NOT Harry Potter. Do NOT come into this expecting that same type of story. I also do not recommend this for any but the most mature of teens as there is quite a bit of language, sex, rape, drug abuse, and violence. However, if you come into it realizing what it is and what it isn't, I think you'll enjoy it.