The Casual Vacancy
By J.K. Rowling
Summary: A big novel about a small town…
When Barry Fairbrother dies in his early forties, the 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 parish 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?
A big novel about a small town, The Casual Vacancy is J.K. Rowling’s first novel for adults. It is the work of a storyteller like no other.
Source: I purchased a paperback
The Casual Vacancy was the first book J.K. Rowling released after the Harry Potter series. As a result, it is a book with plenty of mixed reviews. Even still, J.K. Rowling has also written mystery thrillers under a pseudonym that was later revealed to be her, and The Casual Vacancy still doesn’t quite fit in with anything else she’s written. It was most certainly not a fantasy or anything remotely like Harry Potter, nor is it a mystery, despite it beginning with a death.
With that being said, if you were picking it up because you wanted more Rowling after loving Harry Potter, I suggest you reread the synopsis and decide whether a book about small town politics is your type of thing. No amount of love for Rowling as an author will matter if you don’t like the subject matter of the book. It is NOT Harry Potter. There is no magic in this novel. If you are picking the book up because you think it will be a fun murder mystery and you enjoy her other thrillers, I also advise you to reread the synopsis. If you do not enjoy small town politics and social issues between a community of people, you WILL NOT enjoy the book. It’s a bit unfair for people to not enjoy the subject matter, yet pick up the book and then suddenly cry “this isn’t what I thought I’d get!”
I enjoyed The Casual Vacancy, but it was not without its flaws.
My first issue was with the over the top crudeness of certain scenes. I am no stranger to crudeness and even enjoy when books are graphic or over the top, but with this book, it felt like a way for Rowling to shout “this is SO adult, look how crude I can be, look at the words I’m using!” I’m sure she wanted to prove her worthiness in an adult genre after being a children’s/YA author for so long, but there was just no need for the sexual scenes to use language like that when it wasn’t present in the rest of the book.
My second issue was the slowness of the plot. I was intrigued by the beginning and engrossed at the end, but there were entirely too many pages in which nothing happens and story shifted from person to person while they did things that were mostly not relevant to anything else. The events and the way everyone was interconnected was certainly interesting, especially as the residents of the town kind of turned on each other and were awful people, but I feel like, with a better editing process, the story could have been condensed and written in a more straightforward way. I think Rowling got a bit of a deal with her being a popular author and had she written this one under a pseudonym it might have been put through a more rigorous editing process.
Despite my two issues, the book itself was pretty good. The writing was great. It was sort of like reading about friends of the Dursley’s from Harry Potter, as some of the residents of Pagford were very awful and obsessed with their own self importance in the same way Vernon Dursley was. I liked the plot and getting into the personal lives of the residents and the issues that motivated them, while watching nearly all of them be awful people. But I can’t give the book more than three stars because it was quite boring for at least 50% of the book and there was just no need for that.