Title: The Casual Vacancy
Author: J. K. Rowling
503 pages, Published by Little, Brown and Company
Buy The Book: Amazon
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.(Summary provided by Little, Brown and Company.)
The Casual Vacancy is J. K. Rowling’s first novel for adults. I, like many people, decided to read the book out of curiosity. I was a huge fan of the Harry Potter series, and I didn’t really have high hopes for The Casual Vacancy. From the cover flap description, the plot didn’t sound like something I would normally like. However, I was pleasantly surprised.
I have no idea where to start. Hmm…Well, for starters, The Casual Vacancy is pretty dark, and I like dark. By dark I mean this book is more than a cozy novel about an English village. It’s more like a searing manifesto against the hypocrisy of residents of Pagford due to preconceived notions regarding residents of an area known as “The Fields.”
The Fields is technically part of Yarvil, a neighboring town. Due to a land deal made decades ago children from The Fields, a low income Yarvil housing area, can attend the Pagford school system. This and a number of other issues concerning Pagford and The Fields makes the casual vacancy, an empty spot on the parish council due to death of a council member, a huge deal. Whoever wins the election could possibly tip the council in one direction or another regarding how to deal with The Fields. An anti-Fields member could help the members of the council who want to try to shift responsibility for The Fields to Yarvil and a pro-Fields member could do the opposite. On the surface the novel is about the political climate in a small town when a parish council seat opens up, but it is so much more than that.
The book follows the lives of a number of adult and teenage residents of Pagford and a teenager named Krystal who lives in the housing development located in The Fields.There are very few redeeming characters in this book. Barry Fairbrother, the council member who dies at the beginning of the book, represents a set of ideals that are lost to the community with his passing. He was a man who truly seemed to believe in helping both the people and the residents of The Fields. Even Fairbrother’s supporters don’t seem to live up to his memory.
I was pretty shocked by the explicit nature of the book. I was not expecting J. K. Rowling to write a book rife with expletives (such as “see you next Tuesday”), underage sex, and drug usage. It was kind of awesome. I kept thinking Hermione wouldn’t approve. The book was permeated by an overwhelming sadness. The despondence of the teens who populated the book, particularly the home life of Krystal, was heartbreaking. Rowling’s observation that sometimes the people most vocal about politics often times have no idea what’s going on with their own children (and for that matter wouldn’t stop to help a lost child wondering in the park) was chilling.This book made me want to hold my children closer when I finished reading it.
If you are looking for something similar in scope and plot to the Harry Potter books, then obviously this book isn’t for you. I recommend it for readers who aren’t afraid of explicit language and enjoy well-written send ups of small town politics along with the gossiping, betrayal, and hypocrisy that surrounds it. I also recommend purchasing a box of Kleenex before reading it. The Casual Vacancy is a tear jerker. I cried buckets at the end. Well done J.K.. Well done. 50 points to Rowling House.
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