The Casual Vacancy, by JK Rowling; NW, by Zadie Smith

The Casual Vacancy. JK Rowling. Book Review. 4 stars

The Casual Vacancy, JK Rowling’s first book not set in the wizarding world, has gotten review ratings all over the map. Many reviewers are passionately disappointed that is is not a Harry Potter book.

Broken wand.

The major departure is not just the lack of magic, but the relative lack of optimism. This book has a fundamentally different view on human potential, and on bravery and heroism, that may leave fans of Harry Potter, a series primarily about the great effectiveness of these higher ideals, dejected. Rather, you’ve got a story that is horrifying in its depiction of mundane normalcy. It’s about the human tendency to turn a blind eye rather than help a neighbor, and the hopelessness of change without that help.

But I tell you what: I thought it was quite good.

NW. Zadie Smith. Book Review. [Image: Outline of Northwest London] 4 stars

When I read the description of The Casual Vacancy, I thought, “Huh, this is like a Zadie Smith novel.” Indeed, NW has similar subject matter: economic stratification, racism, the social effects of British Imperialism, technology, drug use, and all their effects on modern life. Of course, Zadie Smith got there first.

NW is ambitious, telling the stories of two girls growing up in Northwest London, along with the stories of other residents of that area, in chapters with changing focuses and narrative styles. Smith captures universal feelings of unease, of being caught in the tide of cultural expectation and economic hardship, and unable to break free.

Quotation Marks

While the alternating chapters are an interesting device, the changing methods of marking dialogue–or not marking it, as the case may be—are just distracting. What’s wrong with quotation marks?

Good for: Fans of Zadie Smith. Don’t know if you like Zadie Smith? I recommend starting with White Teeth.

This book review was posted in Adult & General Fiction and given a book rating of /5. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Casual Vacancy, by JK Rowling; NW, by Zadie Smith

  1. Alicia says:

    I went in to The Casual Vacancy pretending it was a book by an author I’d never read before, because really that’s what it was since it was so different from Harry Potter. And with that in mind, I enjoyed it and I’d read another book by adult author JK Rowling. Is it as good as Harry Potter? Of course not, but who would have expected that? Now I want to go home and re-read Rowling’s first seven books!

  2. Katie Funk says:

    This is awesome, Audrey. I sometimes think we are leading parallel-ish reading lives… except I haven’t been able to motivate myself to pick up The Casual Vacancy yet. I will reconsider now… 🙂

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