The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

Hang onto your wands, Harry Potter fans!  We’re not at Hogwarts anymore!

Anyone assuming that Potter author J.K. Rowling’s writing would still reflect magical and mystical properties when she moved to the adult market might well be disappointed.

Her first adult novel, The Casual Vacancy, is gritty, sometimes amusing and sometimes shocking. It’s not that it isn’t good writing, it’s just a jolt to the mind of someone expecting to find anything remotely familiar.  In fairness, I never read the Harry Potter books, though I’ve seen all of the films.  So my expectations going into The Casual Vacancy were based on the huge Potter success.

The story is based in Pagford, a little town in rural England.  Barry Fairbrother, in his early 40s, has suddenly dropped dead, throwing Pagford into a crisis.  His seat on the parish council is now what is referred to as a “casual vacancy”, and in one way or another everyone in town will be affected by it, either because they’re running for election to the seat, or because of the policies he stood for or against that are now possibly in jeopardy.

On the surface, the tiny town would seem to be close-knit and idyllic.  But under the surface there is much squabbling between the rich and poor, between the English-born and “foreigners”. Drug problems and Internet hacking are at work as well.

There’s no question that Rowling knows her way around rural England.  She also knows her way around the F-word and many other colorful expressions.

This is not to say that I didn’t like the book. It’s intriguing to see how one small incident (albeit a man’s death) can affect so many people. The various reactions to it display the many faces of humanity, good and bad.  But I really had to drag myself through perhaps the first third of the book until I began to care about the characters. And finally, at the end (503 pages) it was not a book I minded putting aside.

I would not have read it had it not been written by Rowling. I’m sorry now that I didn’t read the Harry Potter series because I’m sure her finest work is represented there.  I’m glad to have read this, her first adult offering, but would be cautious about reading another. Still – out of curiosity if nothing else, I think it’s worth reading.  She is certainly one of the biggest names in current literature and deserves attention. For more information on the book or as an easy link to buy it, click on the book image at the beginning of this post.



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