Title: The Casual Vacancy
Author: J.K. Rowling
The Casual Vacancy suffers from some of the same problems Deathly Hallows did, which isn't surprising, all things considered. I also felt at times like J.K. Rowling was trying to pull at my heartstrings with obvious manipulation, rather than actually writing something heart-wrenching. All of that considered, though, it was an interesting take on small-town politics (literal and not), class warfare, and coming of age in screwed up families.
Perhaps what was most interesting, though, was how clear it was that J.K. Rowling was trying to not write Harry Potter, but managed to continue a lot of the same plot conventions. Frex, we've got a lot of subplots that end up vortexing and condensing into a singularity at the end. Sound like Deathly Hallows? 'Cause that's my recollection of it.
But besides the plot (which kind of annoyed me, especially the ending, if you haven't picked up on that already), the individual characters are rather interesting. We've got the adults dealing with politics, both the city council election and their own internal struggles to keep up appearances in a small town, and children dealing with their adolescent frustrations and broken homes.
One thing that made it a bit difficult to follow the plot, though, was the fact that the adolescents referred to the adults with various nicknames as well as themselves (and sometimes even multiple nicknames). This meant it was necessary to not only remember each character, but also which nicknames applied to them.
The biggest issue in Pagford (the small town) was The Fields, a tenement housing situation where most of the tenants were living on government support and many had substance abuse issues. Pagford wanted to stop supporting The Fields and shut down the methadone clinic. The story here is a bit one-sided (though the side that I personally support), showing a teenager trying to keep her brother from being taken away and her mom off heroin, and the social worker doing everything in her power to make this happen.
Most of the anti-Fields characters in this story are clearly shown to be bigoted and not having all of the information. Of course, they also have always had money and lived in a small town. The few people they knew who made it from The Fields into Pagford proper they see as exceptions to the rules.
The adolescents in the story (besides the one who lives in The Fields) are dealing with entirely different problems. Most of the families have secrets, secrets that haven't managed to be gossiped about in a small town yet. There are families that are abusive and a family where mental illness is being hidden for appearance's sake. As the story goes on, these adolescents manage to bring these secrets to the forefront, although they don't necessarily have the impact they were expecting.
I do love character-driven stories, which The Casual Vacancy really is, but the plot and the sheer length of it made it a less enjoyable read. Now, that's not to say I don't like longer books. The problem arises when I start wondering when the book is going to end. So it was longer than it needed to be, it felt like.
Still, it was an enjoyable read that I would recommend.