I'm not in the habit of reviewing books here - lots of other people do that but I just finished reading The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling and I wanted to share a few thoughts with you. According to the jacket of the book, it's about what happens when a parish Councillor in a small English town dies unexpectedly and there is an election held to replace him.
As you may know, the reviews on this were very mixed when it was released. Some said it was a brilliant departure from the Harry Potter franchise which has placed Rowling firmly in the ranks of successful contemporary writers, others said it was drivel that was only published because of her past economic successes as an author and she should have quit while she was ahead. I admit it took me almost five weeks to read a 500 page novel - a very long time for me. I usually read much faster than that but the first 150 - 200 pages or so of the book are very slow. Not much happens - other than the Councillor in question dies - and a huge cast of characters is introduced. So I kept reading, waiting for something to happen and struggled to keep track of who was who. Imagine my surprise when the plodding book became a page turner!
The thing is, this is not a plot driven book. If you're looking for a 'story' that follows traditional patterns then put this down and keep looking; you probably won't enjoy it. It is not a blow by blow account of what happens in the two sides of the election, the battle for the seat and who wins though that is certainly a part of the book. Rather, it is a complex analysis of how people react when tested. And as we all know, testing means different things to different people.
It is about combating addiction, and how addiction is the same and recovery is precarious whether you're a 'white trash junkie' or an upper middle class alcoholic. It is about courage - the courage to live a normal life when battling mental illness. It is about facing down your personal demons. It is about being a parent and and protecting your children. It is about the relationships between teens and their parents. It is about different forms of abuse and why we tolerate it. It is also about hope. Some parts of the book were so emotionally raw it was difficult to read, some parts were sorta dull, some parts were horrifying, and some parts were laugh-out-loud funny. Just like life.