Title: The Casual Vacancy
Author: JK Rowling
Publisher: Little Brown & Company
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
How I Read It: Hard cover purchased by me.
Synopsis: 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?
*Synopsis taken from the book jacket
My Review: Like many other readers, I was delighted to hear awhile back that JK Rowling had an adult novel for us…adult like it was written for adults, not that it was going to be some erotic romance or anything like that. I preordered a copy the day it became available, and lamented the fact that I couldn’t pick it up as soon as it arrived, since I was traveling overseas at the time. Meanwhile, as reviews started popping up around the internet, I was disappointed to read that people seem to have quite mixed opinions about this novel.
After reading the entire thing, I can see why people have these mixed feelings. This novel is nothing like Harry Potter in the story elements, the chief among them being that this is set in the actual world without any magic, no true heroes or villains, and no one overwhelmingly charming or likeable. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the only character in this novel who isn’t mildly repulsive in some way is our deceased gentleman, Barry.
With all that in mind, if you only liked the Harry Potter series because of the magic and all that, this novel won’t be your kind of thing. Rowling breaks any mold we may have put her in, shows us that she’s not afraid to tackle evil in the real world, and really demonstrates what a remarkable writer she is. If nothing else, it took me at least four or five HP books before I shed some tears, but this one had me going by the end.
Rather than telling us a story about good versus evil, this novel is about life. Regardless of where you’re from, you can probably recognize something of your life in one or more of the characters, whether that’s the unhappy/happy marriage, the singledom with or without a child, neglect and abuse, going beyond expectations to break the stereotype of your life, or just being an average teenager. The teens in this novel aren’t without their flaws either: they are cruel, confused, destructive, and trying to find their way to adulthood. Oh, and most of them hate their parents. Shocker!
I feel like I can’t review this without at least mentioning to y’all that there are some difficult situations, and if you’ve got triggers for things you can’t read, this might hit them. There’s abuse, both emotional and physical. A lot of talk about drug use and what it’s like for an addict trying hard to stay clean. There are many instances of bullying and the self-injury that can result from that. This book really does not pull any punches when it comes to these hard truths of life, and shows us what can lie behind closed doors inside any of our communities. But if these situations are hard for you to read, I would say be warned that they exist.
In some ways, this was an exhausting read, but I mean that in the best way. I’m glad I read it, and I’m happy to have it on my shelf, yet I won’t be picking it up again for awhile. What I can say is that I’m very excited to see what Rowling comes up with next, and that people who enjoy good writing or character studies will enjoy this one.
Read this book if: I think fans of realistic fiction will like this. If you’re into paranormal, or want to read Rowling expecting this is going to be like Harry Potter, don’t be disappointed when it’s not.
My Rating: 4/5 – Borderline amazing!