The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling
My Rating: 4 stars
In a novel vastly different from the widely known ¬Harry Potter phenomenon, The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling follows the lives of multiple people who live in the small town of Pagford. After the sudden, very shocking death of Barry Fairbrother (that’s Barry, not Harry), a chain reaction travels throughout Pagford. Pagford, outwardly, is seemingly just another small town in England with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, but beneath 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, and teachers at war with their pupils. Pagford definitely is not what it at first seems. And the empty seat Barry Fairbrother left on the parish council becomes the catalyst for the biggest war that the town has seen yet.
Since its publication on September 27, 2012, The Casual Vacancy received a large amount of diverse reviews. This novel is almost the total opposite of the Harry Potter series, which seemed to shock most. I remember when The Casual Vacancy was first announced. Initially, I couldn’t believe J.K. Rowling had moved on from Harry Potter so quickly, because, well, I definitely hadn’t quite yet. I tried not to have high expectations for this novel, though. I prepared myself to take the blank-slate approach and let Rowling start anew.
(I had also told myself that I wouldn’t waste any time comparing The Casual Vacancy to any of the Potter novels, but, well, that seems inevitable at this point…)
In comparison to the Potter novels, the characters in The Casual Vacancy are very one-dimensional and gossipy, much like Harry’s Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia. Also, there are a plethora of them – about a dozen crucial main characters, give or take a few, and at first, they are very difficult to recall and differentiate. Though, one thing I really did enjoy is how all of the characters are intertwined and connected, and in some way, each one of them was affected by the death of Barry Fairbrother.
Drugs, vulgar language, and a pulsating sense of sexuality are very apparent in the characters of this novel as well, which is probably quite unexpected for most of Rowling’s readers. (This is an adult novel, remember?)
Speaking of which, I find the overall topic or theme of this novel: class and other social tensions, to be quite humorous. In the Potter series, which are novels for children, Rowling addresses, what one would consider, quite “mature” topics – such as death, trust, love, and friendship – topics that one would think would be included in an adult novel. The Casual Vacancy practically glides over the aforementioned topics, just barely reaching the tip of the iceberg.
On the other hand, though a lot may disagree, I find Rowling’s drastic change in her novels and writing to be quite admirable. Her versatility is quite impeccable, I think. The fact that she can focus on one series for so long, and then a few years later, write something so totally different is, dare I say, incredible. I think most of Rowling’s readers were so disappointed because they originally had very high expectations for this novel. And I will stand by my belief that if The Casual Vacancy did not say “J.K. Rowling” on its cover, it would have done quite well.