Like Harry Potter there are a lot of characters, but unlike Harry Potter, no one set rises to the surface for the reader to stand behind and really get to know. Everyone in this novel is equally flawed and spiteful. In this respect, Rowling's adult novel is much more realistic than her previous work and about much more than politics. In fact, like Harry Potter, it's central message seems to be about having tolerance for those around you, but in the town of Pagford where stereotypes and stigma run deep, it's not that easy. None of the characters ingratiate themselves to the reader. I felt sympathy for many of them, but I actually liked very few, if any of them; some of them seemed slightly stock. At times Rowling's novel was shocking - the Weedons are not like the Weasleys who are considered poor in the wizarding world, but it's a shabby poor, and one that their good spirits make up for. Nor in the most mistreated parts of Harry's history was he ever neglected like Robbie Weedon. It is a disgusting and bone-shuddering life that Rowling depicts, but what's worse is the townpeoples' attitudes towards this very obvious problem. Some of the members want to cut the problem out like a bad spot in a piece of fruit or in the skin, but it goes much deeper than that. While reading Rowling's novel, I was constantly reminded of the current racial and political clime. What's to be done about the rate of unemployment and the overreaching of government aid programs? When does aid become a burden? Should someone who falls off the wagon be left there to pick up again on his or her own?
As a self-proclaimed fan of Harry Potter, I knew this book would be the furthest thing from Harry Potter, and I was right, but it's hard as a reader of Harry Potter to separate that author in my mind from this one as I'm sure it was hard for Rowling to separate herself as the author of Harry Potter from the author of The Casual Vacancy. In some places, she tries too hard to make the distinction that this is not a novel for children. In the first thirty pages, I encountered some very adult themes, language, and descriptions that seemed not at all necessary to the plot or character development but were merely included to prove that this was a different genre than she'd worked in before. One thing she can't change though, Rowling is a wonderful writer. She has a way with the written word, and the novel's language was always a marvel. Be warned, it is 500 pages, and you will not fly through them like you may have a 700 page Harry Potter book. This is not a plot-driven novel but a character driven one and one whose ending is markedly different from the hopefulness stored at the end of each Harry Potter novel.
In all honesty, this is not a book I would have picked up had J. K. Rowling's name not been on the cover, but I'm glad I did. It was an intriguing read that made me think.
Best matched with readers of contemporary adult fiction who are interested in characterization.