Late last night…comparatively, that’s eons. It’s not a long book and I’ve finished the last few Harry Potters in less than 24 hours after I got them, but this one was a lot different. The thing where I wrote short posts while reading rather than one long review after is new, and I think it helped this time. I might keep doing that for future books.

My best advice to anyone who picks up this book is this: Try your darnedest to ignore that JK Rowling wrote it, and forget (as you’re reading and for a while after) that you ever knew anybody named Harry. There are definitely some recurring themes and parallels between the characters/places in The Casual Vacancy versus Harry Potter, so if you’re looking for the story of your favorite boy wizard within these pages, it’s not hard to find. But if you put this new story in the context of the series, you will almost certainly destroy every memory of Harry Potter that was once innocent and magical. There are things you actually see and experience with these characters that you only hear about in Potter, and while I’m sure putting them together would be a wonderful project for some Literature student somewhere, I’m not up for it. Certain connections just happened in my head before I realized it; I regret those already and I’m not keen on going farther down that road. 

Also, if you’re new to the adult fiction genre, pick up The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo or something similar and see if you can get through that first. I found The Casual Vacancy that level of intense. I feel like there’s very little I can say that can ring true for most readers, though. What you think about this book will be all about what’s “real” to you. For me, the majority of Pagford, the Fields, and what festers there was real, and that’s why I might find it more disturbingly chilling than someone else would. That’s less likely to be true for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo because that story, while morbidly engaging and fascinating, is a bit more removed from the readers’ lives.

It’s Rowling’s ability to create a world that completely draws you in that does it…it’s a priceless gift I wish I had, but in this book, it’s almost sinister. Like I said, there’s not much I like about most of the characters. My growing dislike of Pagford – it reminds me of a place I’ve lived that I absolutely detested – made me want to slam down this novel and go read some Dr. Seuss instead, and the fact that I physically couldn’t shows that Jo’s writing here is as powerful as it ever was in Harry Potter. At the end of the book, I was so invested that I wanted a few of them (namely Fats, Simon Price, Obbo, and almost all the Mollisons) thrown off a cliff. They’re so damaging and destructive that they probably would’ve turned the sea below into liquid nitrogen.

Instead, the one who pays the price is the only one who is completely without rebuke. The way JK Rowling pulled off that ending is nothing short of poetic. I don’t think I can call her Jo anymore.

This is a brilliantly written book, but whatever humor is there is completely black. Nothing is sacred, no one carefree, no place an escape. She does an expert job at weaving them all together to make sure of that. The whole thing is so unrelentingly grey that I’d rather be back in Snape’s dungeon or in detention with Dolores Umbridge with the relief of an actual enemy to fight. At least they inspired some form of unity in resistance. There’s nothing unifying about Pagford; in fact, to me, it’s a picture of the banality of evil.

Pagford is not the safe haven that Hogwarts was. It’s a place I wouldn’t ever want to go back to, except I’ve already opened the damn Pandora’s box inside my head. I’m not sure what, if anything, is still left in it.

I know the thought of experiencing Rowling’s writing for the first time again is exciting, but trust me, don’t go there until you’re good and ready for it. Or you’ll end up making ignorant-ass comments like Kevin Nance’s comparison of Fats to Ron Weasley in his review for the Chicago Sun Times.

Ron is one of the most relatable and beloved HP characters, you snooty little condescending prick. He jumped in a frozen-over lake to save his best friend, while Fats gave his best friend a peanut inside a marshmallow knowing that Andrew was allergic. Fats is a sadistic, cowardly psychopath among the purest forms of evil in this book, and from your work, you sound like the type of person who would be nodding with an indulgent smile if you were to sit down and discuss his poisonous bullshit about authenticity over mimosas. If anything, Fats is Voldemort. Go back, reread, and in the future, stick to being an architecture critic.

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