Updated on August 5, 2015
36. ‘The Casual Vacancy’ by JK Rowling
I have a confession to make: I never finished Harry Potter. It wasn’t even a case of growing out of the books and not bothering to buy the next one; I actually got bored with book number 5 (yes, I made it that far!) halfway through and gave up. And I’ve never gone back. I’m sure one day I’ll read them all in a row, but only because I feel obliged to. So for any die hard fans out there, sorry.
Still, when I saw that Rowling was releasing a new book, for adults, I was quite keen to read it. And I have to say that I’m glad I did.
‘The Casual Vacancy’ is set in the small village of Pagford, and the story opens with the death of one of the parish councillors. His death leaves a void in the council, which various interested parties rush to fill, in order to tip the balance of various local debates. The most contentious issue facing the council is the area named the Fields, a fairly rough council estate which some residents of proud, pretty Pagford want to fob off onto the nearest big town. Others believe the children of the Fields will get a better education at Pagford’s school and want to keep the area under their jurisdiction.
Does this sound dry? Well, I suppose it does, and there is certainly a lot of small town politics in this book that could easily get wearing, and the language largely isn’t beautiful or philosophical. However, I thought there was enough good material here to redeem the slightly dull subject matter and occasionally plain storytelling.
There are lots of characters to keep track of, which was incredibly confusing at the beginning, but Rowling provides enough little details here and there for the reader to keep up. Once I got to know the panoply of characters better I felt that they were, for the most part, very well drawn. Each had their own motives and idiosyncrasies, and the narrative voice jumps between them so you are privy to almost every character’s thoughts. This would certainly have been a mission to write, and I think has Rowling pulled it off.
As for the main debate of the book, I was in the pro-Fields camp, and found myself getting genuinely enraged by some of the pettiness of the anti-Fields characters. Rowling certainly leans towards this side of the debate herself, and pokes fun at the conservative anti-Fielders very effectively, by showing their prejudice and unwillingness to compromise. I wondered if maybe there was a certain amount of personal therapy in the writing, if Rowling is perhaps hitting back against similar people she has encountered.
The ending – the threads of which weave together from the very beginning – has a certain sense of inevitability, but remains dramatic. It is truly shocking and, although it could be a tad explosive, given the comparatively gentle nature of the rest of the story, I think it was a good way to close the story, and to put to bed characters that I had become genuinely invested in.
I have heard plenty of criticisms of Rowling’s foray into adult literature, and whilst I don’t think ‘The Casual Vacancy’ is fantastic or ground-breaking, I did find it solidly good. It was a well planned, well executed, complex story that probably could have done with a little more magic.
“Every hour that passed added to her grief, because it bore her away from the living man, and because it was a tiny foretaste of the eternity she would have to spend without him.”
I got this on my Kindle shortly after it came out and I took quite a while to read it. I’m trying to keep up with the latest big trends in book selling this year and so, like Fifty Shades, I felt I should probably give this one a go.
If you enjoyed my review, why not buy the book and let me know what you think?