Previous post on The Casual Vacancy.
I did, in the end, finish Rowling's book. I neither recommend it nor condemn it, nor do I retract what I said earlier. I would like to add a few things.
I said the book was a kind of amalgamation of a Jane Austen setting with James Joyce characters. I would add it also contains elements of Dickens. Like Dickens, the greatest reformer of his time, Rowling has written a story about parts of life and people that polite society would rather not talk about, or see, or even think about. She takes the reader into a world of welfare housing and methadone clinics, of abused children who don't have much of a chance in life, raised by parents who were abused and didn't have much chance in their life, and the people who would shut down the housing and the clinics and tell the people who leaned on them both to just stop taking drugs, get a job, and all will be well.
None of the characters are likable. Even the girl who lies at the heart of the novel, who stands for those who live in the shadow of poverty and drugs, is not a character who is likable, nor a champion of her people. It seems the best character is the one who dies in the opening pages, whose death kicks off the events of the novel. There is no hero in this novel, no one to pull for, to hope that they shall come through and save everyone. She draws a picture of a brutal, bleak world, with complicated problems that are beyond the capacity of those who believe a facile answer will solve everything, those who try and help but are limited, and those who would rather not think about it at all.