The Washington Post

‘The Casual Vacancy’: The reviews are in

Will it break a record? Probably. But is it good? That’s the big question of the day, as “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling’s first adult novel, “The Casual Vacancy,” hit shelves this morning. It was protected by a number of security procedures, including a stringent non-disclosure agreement, so only a few reviews leaked out before the 1 a.m. EST embargo time. So far, critics have been lukewarm on the author’s departure from the magical land of Hogwarts. Here’s what they have to say, starting with our own review, by Monica Hesse:


The Washington Post:

“In this one 500-page book, Rowling re-traverses the Potter series’ entire tonal journey: a gradual darkening in which snide comments on small stakes give way to sharp commentary on big ones. The election unearths tensions. The tensions ruin lives. No amount of Reparo spells can undo the things that are done; we’re not in Hogwarts anymore.”

The Guardian:

“Generally, though, ‘The Casual Vacanc’y is a solid, traditional and determinedly unadventurous English novel... No one, I suspect, reads Rowling for the beauty of her sentences but there is often a sense here that the language is not quite doing what she wants it to do. One character, we are told, “hated sudden death”. Who doesn’t?”

The New York Times:

“Unfortunately, the real-life world she has limned in these pages is so willfully banal, so depressingly clichéd that ‘The Casual Vacancy’ is not only disappointing — it’s dull.”

The Associated Press:

“This isn’t a book that’s easy to fall in love with, the way Harry Potter was with its charming, winning hero and his plucky friends, saving the world from evil with the help of a powerful spell or two. Even with its moments of humor, it’s a hard story where some people just don’t get saved, because really, they never had a chance.”

The LA Times:

“Rowling clearly knows how to create a universe that’s compelling, consuming even, but Pagford is no such place. Rather, it is little more than a backdrop, a stage set, its lack of depth an emblem of Rowling’s inability to engage us, to invest us sufficiently in her characters, young or otherwise, to reckon with the contrivances of her fictional world.”

New York Daily News:

“Rowling’s strength was never her prose. It was her ability to create unforgettable characters and weave stories that held us captive. The magic simply isn’t there in ‘The Casual Vacancy.’ Indeed, the spell has been broken.”

The New Yorker:

“A powerful and protected writer risks getting things wrong... Some sentences cause you to picture a Little, Brown editor starting to dial Rowling’s number, then slowly putting down the handset: ‘There, in his poky office, Simon Price gazed covetously on a vacancy among the ranks of insiders to a place where cash was now trickling down onto an empty chair with no lap waiting to catch it.’“

Entertainment Weekly:

“Rowling does a nice job laying out her 20-plus characters’ endless pretensions and weaknesses, which she punctures with gleeful flicks of a surprisingly sharp comic blade.”

People Magazine:

“Rowling captures the humanity in everyone, even if that humanity is not always a pretty sight. And – though creating Harry Potter was more than enough – if Rowling wants to convince the world that she can cast other spells, she has succeeded.”

Publisher’s Weekly:

“As in the Harry Potter books, children make mistakes and join together with a common cause, accompanied here by adults, some malicious, some trying yet failing. Minus the magic, though, good and evil are depressingly human, and while the characters are all well drawn and believable, they aren’t much fun.”

View Photo Gallery: ‘Rags to riches’ is shorthand to describe J.K. Rowling’s journey from a humble childhood and surviving as a single mother to billionaire and author of a highly anticipated adult novel. Here are a few stops along the way.

Maura Judkis covers culture, food, and the arts for the Weekend section and Going Out Guide.


Success! Check your inbox for details. You might also like:

Please enter a valid email address

See all newsletters

Show Comments
Most Read


Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Your Three. Videos curated for you.
Play Videos
Don’t be ‘that’ sports parent | On Parenting
Miss Manners: The technology's changed, but the rules are the same
A flood of refugees from Syria but only a trickle to America
Play Videos
John Lewis, 'Marv the Barb' and the politics of barber shops
Kids share best advice from mom
Using Fitbit to help kids lose weight
Play Videos
This man's job is binge-watching for Netflix
Transgender swimmer now on Harvard men's team
Portland's most important meal of the day
Play Videos
5 ways to raise girls to be leaders
How much can one woman eat?
The signature drink of New Orleans