The inevitable comparison: it’s not Harry Potter, but it’s still pretty good

By   —   October 11, 2012   —   in Culture

The Concordian (Concordia University)

Montreal (CUP) — Being J.K. Rowling is a trap. The hype that surrounded her most recent publication, an adult fiction novel entitled The Casual Vacancy, is proof of how much weight lies on this author’s shoulders.

Clearly, should Rowling want to write about anything other than Hogwarts, broomsticks and He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, the literary world must go wild.

So it is with much trepidation that I, like millions of others across the world, picked up a copy of The Casual Vacancy at my local bookstore Sept. 27.

Three days later, my previously pristine copy of Rowling’s book was torn, crumpled and decorated by coffee stains, having been lugged around virtually everywhere with me for 72 hours.

The book was extremely good, in a dark, sarcastic and incredibly realistic way. Rowling had me engrossed in a story that I could never have believed would be captivating.

Let’s be honest — the idea of a book revolving around the sudden death of a council member in a tiny, unknown village in England isn’t exactly a dream premise. But the citizens of Pagford, the tiny village in question, fascinate as we glimpse their everyday lives unraveling in the throes of tragedy.

The novel starts out with councilman Barry Fairbrother passing away suddenly on the eve of his wedding anniversary. Initially shocked with grief, the citizens of Pagford quickly move to replace him on council and a controversial election ensues. Meanwhile, the former ally of the deceased finds herself more alienated than ever. As we flip the pages, tensions and secrets arise in a way that readers will find covertly echoes a combination of Desperate Housewives and Shameless.

Rowling does a marvelous job showing us, yet again, that she has a profound understanding of human existence. Humour is doused with crudeness and the combination is a satire of our time that leaves the reader wanting more.

I found myself blitzing through chapters, anticipating the slew of revelations to come, the same way I had dashed through the last Harry Potter book, wanting to know if Voldemort had prevailed. It’s suspense, but not in the classic sense; there’s simply a more refined excitement to be had.

Having skimmed the media on the topic, I’ve read my share of reviews on The Casual Vacancy. Not many of them are flattering. Negative reviews mainly criticize the book’s overall grittiness and the relatively ugly side of social reality it reveals.

For anyone that has read the Harry Potter series, this is an unexpected (and perhaps unpleasant) wake-up call. The charm that surrounded Hogwarts and its inhabitants easy-going, comical characters that we would have loved to meet, was addictively pleasant.

You’ve been warned: there will be drugs, depression and all-out despair. Does that make the book any less of a page-turner? Not a bit.

Image: Supplied

authors books harry potter j.k. rowling
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