I have to preface my review with a disclaimer. I love J.K. Rowling. “Harry Potter” is my childhood book, and everything she does is amazing. If I were not an extreme royalist for Her Majesty Elizabeth II, I would probably follow the trend of many Potter fans and refer to Rowling as “Queen.”
I was tickled when Rowling announced that she would be releasing a new book that was not related to Potter, but I was a little apprehensive, as well. The question in the back of mind was “can Rowling still make literary magic without Hogwarts?” I tried to put my fears aside when I picked up “The Cas
ual Vacancy,” Rowling’s first adult novel.
“The Casual Vacancy” centers on the small town of Pagford and its inhabitants. Pagford features an active parish council that has a vacancy due to the surprise death of Barry Fairbrother. Soon, multiple citizens are vying for the open council spot. A few want to continue the good works that Fairbrother was committed to. He was one of the few Pagford citizens who supported the inclusion of the Fields, a slum area that included a lot of drug users and theft that had been added to Pagford’s district years prior.
On the opposite side is Miles Mollison, the son of the council chair, whose parents see the Fields as an insult to their superiority in Pagford. However, the council ho
pefuls aren’t the only ones picking sides. Dr. Parminder Jawanda, a current council member, is stuck between continuing Fairbrother’s vision herself and backing one of the hopefuls. Meanwhile, everyone’s teenagers are trying to navigate the rights and wrongs of life, be it with friends in school or dealing with family life at home.
Despite being a small town, Pagford is spl
itting at its seams and soon everyone starts to turn on each other. What secrets are revealed during this turbulent time and who makes it out unscathed? Rowling dives right into the adult genre by dealing with everything under the sun that was not included with Harry Potter.
A laundry list of “adult” topics in “The Casual Vacancy” includes: sex, self-harm, suicide, domestic abuse, sexual abuse, drug-use, violence, incest, infidelity and others. Based on the list alone, it seems improbable that a town as little as Pagford could suffer from all these problems realistically, but every citizen of Pagford is so unhappy it seems plausible.
Practically every decision made by a major character is driven by pure selfishness. Given the fact that the perspective changes between at least ten people, there are a lot of selfish acts happening which add fuel to the fire of dissent in town. There are wives against husbands, kids against parents, friends against friends and even parents against kids. The interaction of the characters is a bit similar to the movies “Love Actually” and “Valentin
e’s Day” in that everyone is connected in some form or fashion.
A reader will become caught up in the drama of the town due to Rowling’s crafty trick of revealing vital information about the characters bit by bit. The suspense is done so well that I became obsessive and stayed up reading until two a.m. the day after I picked up the book. This is probably why my parents never bought me new books when I was younger. If drama and intrigue is your thing, “The Casual Vacancy” will not disappoint. I would not go so far to say it is a mystery novel, but it will certainly keep the pages turning. The novel is 503 pages, so you might need to schedule in some reading accordingly.
The British lingo might also set you back a bit, but use your context clues. I would also not say that if you love “Harry Potter,” you will love this book. There is nothing remotely similar to the Potter series apart for Rowling’s phenomenal writing style. If this still sounds like your cup of tea, pick up a copy of “The Casual Vacancy” and see how one man’s death can shake up a town.