A friend of mine says her favorite Harry Potter movie is the first one, since it’s the only one that truly matches her own perception of Hogwarts and the surrounding grounds. Another friend got very upset during the seventh movie with the fake Harry and Hermione come out of the locket Horcrux and nakedly make out. “They’re sexualizing my childhood!”
If you agree with either of my two friends, you might not want to read JKR’s A Casual Vacancy. If you’re like me, though, and truly love all the Harry Potter books an obscene but also compartmentalized amount, you should read TCV, because I really thought it was quite, quite good.
The story, obviously, is completely different from HP. First of all, this is definitely a book for adults, and is a realistic story of a small English town—no magic, no dragons, no boarding schools for precocious wizard children. JKR’s writing style, however, is so familiar that I was immediately drawn into the book; while I had no idea what was going to happen plot-wise, I felt from the first page that I would enjoy it because I so associate her particular writing style with reading pleasure.
TCV continued to impress as I read. One of JKR’s greatest talents as a writer, I think, is character building, and this is shown off in full force in TCV. These characters are real; they’re raw and emotional and occasionally awful. I loved her character development in HP (obvi), but in a YA adventure-fantasy book, personalities are romanticized. Harry may have the occasional angsty outburst, but he’s still very much the hero. We may feel a little sympathy toward Voldemort about his wretched childhood, but he is still definitely evil.
The characters in TCV—and, classic JKR, there are many of them—aren’t wholly protagonists or antagonists. The narrative perspective changes so frequently (sometimes from paragraph to paragraph) so that the reader is constantly getting multiple views of a single event. While I certainly liked some characters more than others, there wasn’t a single one I could point to as being the main protagonist. It was a little eerie, but also very compelling, to find myself agreeing with and empathizing with each character in turn, even when they were petty, malicious, and manipulative. As my friend commented, “We’re all protagonists in our own story.”
That’s what JKR does here—she takes multiple stories and puts them into one, without losing any of the individualized emotional power along the way. Say what you will about preserving the sanctity of HP/your childhood/all reading experiences, but I truly believe TCV is just one more example of JKR at the top of her game.