The Casual Vacancy
J.K. Rowling


When Barry Fairbrother dies unexpectedly in his early forties, the little town of Pagford is left in shock. Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, but what lies behind the pretty façade is a town at war. Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils…. Pagford is not what it first seems. And the empty seat left by Barry on the town’s council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen. Who will triumph in an election fraught with passion, duplicity and unexpected revelations?

Blackly comic, thought-provoking and constantly surprising, The Casual Vacancy is J.K. Rowling’s first novel for adults.

The Casual Vacancy book cover

It seems unfair that, however I tried to read this novel, I had to keep thinking back to Harry. I avoided reading it for so long because of the puerile, instinctive reactions based around the Potter franchise. And yet, as I look at reviews and commentary in the newspapers after the release, I note that those who liked it, liked it for what it was. Those who didn’t, drew some comparison, however tenuous, with Rowling’s previous form, generally to point out where this one flops. “We do not come away feeling that we know the back stories of
the ‘Vacancy’ characters in intimate detail the way we did with Harry”, is an example of this sort of connection. And I say well of course not, you fool, we had seven books and a whole different world to play in there, didn’t we? “fails to conjure Harry Potter’s magic”, says another. So? It’s not about magic. Even magic in the literary sense, which is what one would hope that review was hoping for, is a very subjective term indeed.

For me, personally, I was impressed with the novel. I remember reading a review of Philosopher’s Stone where Rowling’s prose were considered stilted, and a profusion of “he said” “she said” in Goblet of Fire somewhere which allowed the writer to poke through the story.

There was none of that here. it’s a very adult work and Rowling has clearly turned her focus away from children for this work, which is another thing people have complained about (“my kid wants to read this, it’s an adult book, it’s full of filth”). You get the picture. I’m fortunate, I suppose, in that I’d have read it and enjoyed it as much if it were written by a complete unknown, though of course, I wouldn’t have gone on at length.

I was full of ups and downs reading it, some of the characters were more enjoyable than others, that’s just natural. I felt the dialectism was a little over the top in spots, but I see that the aim was authenticity and so can forgive it. The final scene, at the funeral! That was quite intense, you know? Not in terms of content, everything had happened. But things all sort of came together there, and I at least came away more contemplative than before, with these issues in my head where they hadn’t been before.

I do have an issue with the price, which is perhaps unfair to bring into a review about the book per se but it’s not specific to this title: big publishers still charge through the roof for ebooks, and this work falls neatly into that category.
But the writing was good, the story itself interesting and all I’ll say is, if you want to read it, take it for what it is, not for who wrote it. If you want more Harry, more fantasy, more magic, don’t look here.

Published by Sean Randall

I am an avid reader, technologist and disability advocate living in the middle of England with my wife, daughter and pets.

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