1) The Casual Vacancy is a novel constructed by a story best read between the lines. Often, Rowling doesn't write what she means, rather what she doesn't. She hints, creates this puzzle for the reader to figure out, and I really enjoy that. Taking this approach at face value, it gives the reader freedom to process the novel in a thousand different ways. As a writer, it's wonderful to see an author have the skills to actually be in complete control of her words.
2) The Casual Vacancy is more of a character study than anything. The plot, for so many reasons, is the characters. And the characters are the plot.
3) I went into this novel with the idea that I would be reading it for the gorgeous writing. Writing, in fact, was my one expectation. The rest was this: I wanted the story to find me, not the other way around. And that, for me, was the perfect approach because when I came across a paragraph on page 36 of The Casual Vacancy, my mind exploded and I smiled.
"Pagford was as lovely as ever this morning, and Howard knew a sublime moment of exultation in the existence, both of himself, and of the town to which he belonged, as he saw it, like a pulsing heart. He was here to drink it all in - the glossy black benches, the red and purple flowers, the sunlight gilding the top of the stone cross - and Barry Fairbrother was gone. It was difficult not to sense a greater design in this sudden rearrangement of what Howard saw as the battlefield across which he and Barry had faced each other for so long."
In this paragraph, Rowling has established the "main" plot of the story - the casual vacancy - and how it creates a kind of war zone for the town. She painted the town ideal and beautiful, while also conveying how the book itself is a black, dramatic comedy* of sorts. She tells the reader how most of the characters see the town, and how the reader should through their eyes - but she also underlines this idea that the town is not what it seems, and so the character should not be either. Also, she establishes the absurdity of this novel itself - the "greater design" - almost admitting that the design of the novel is there if you look for it like a promise, but not easy to spot - again, admitting that most of the plot is within the characters and setting. The town is perfect, but the characters are not. But then again, if the characters are the ones who see and make and create the town, can the town be perfect or is it just perception? Perhaps this is a novel of perception rather than plot.
Anyway. I love this paragraph so much. I think it is damn near perfect, and conveys the scope of the story perfectly. I'm enjoying The Casual Vacancy, the writing. I have not read any actual reviews of this book, only looked at star ratings, so I'm not sure the specifics of the story - and I wanted it that way when I started this. From the clues Rowling has dropped, this character study seems to be a social commentary on many things, love included - and I'm curious to see how things like religion, state, and family play out. I'll be sure to keep my thoughts on the blog or on facebook.
* "comedy" here means, in my mind, a kind of overly dramatic tale of the extreme and absurd. Not exactly funny, just outlandish.