The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling (2012)
Fiction | Contemporary
“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?”
pooled ink Review:
I didn’t feel particularly interested in this book when it was first published, but I suppose I was still wrapped up in the hype of the Harry Potter movies. I had been debating over whether or not I’d like to read this first adult novel by one of my favorite authors for a long while when my friend bought me a used copy for Christmas. Yes it is August currently so yes it did take a while for it to surface from the depths of my book stacks, but at last I sat down and read it while vacationing at the beach.
This book was not at all what I expected.
Admittedly I didn’t really know anything about it except it was about a village/small English town and that it didn’t have magic in the story. But regardless of my lack of background info I was still struck by surprise as I cracked it open and drank in those first chapters.
It begins with the death of Barry. A part of me kept hoping it was a murder mystery but alas it was not. He just died like humans tend to do in real life.
The plot was so utterly and purely mundane that I struggled to piece together an inevitable conclusion to it all. No murder to solve, no dark wizard to vanquish,…how could this book possibly conclude? There was no break-neck speed race for the finish but rather it shuffled along day by day and yet I couldn’t put it down, I had to read to the very end. I had to know how it would all end. There is perhaps nothing quite so surprising, gripping, tragic, or original as reality itself.
Written with her charming skill, set at a steady unwavering pace, and void of all things fantastical we are left with a book that ought to be, and yet refuses to be, as dry as a piece of toast. I will say that this book is not for everyone, and if you pick it up in hopes of another Harry Potter-esque tale then you will be quite disappointed indeed. However if your taste includes that of which exposes the grit, the ghosts, the nasty darknesses that lurk in humanity then this book will undoubtedly intrigue you.
It’s not shy of strong language, drugs, violence, sex, and the like but it is not included gratuitously. It is always woven in in a natural, inevitable, or matter-of-fact way. Rowling does not wish to write a book that skims the surface, that assumes the best in everyone, that sweeps the darkest depths under the rug to hide from view. Rather she uses every word to peel away layer by layer of façade and pretense that the characters desperately scramble to put up around themselves. Not one character escapes her scrutiny, not one possesses an ounce of perfection. But I don’t mean to say that she goes out of her way to cast shadow and shame upon the characters, she simply peels back their masks and allows you to decide on your own…although yeah, they’re all mostly horrible people.
Honestly I felt a touch depressed after reading this book. They’re all such horrible people! The world is such a broken place! And worst of all there is no easy nor immediate solution for it. People are given chances to rise or fall and we watch as selfishness, fear, insecurity, dishonestly, sickness, addiction, lust, and vanity war against goodness.
The characters are all quite well developed and what really makes this book work is that it constantly switches between each character’s mind. This tactic reveals how they make wrong assumptions, shrewd guesses, and what they all really think about their neighbors and the fight to fill the casual vacancy left by Barry. Truly Rowling’s writing skills gleam on every page, the calibre of writing cannot be argued with, and it will suck you into the story effortlessly, but whether you like the story is a different matter.
Some people will not like this book because they wish to ignore or refuse to accept the realities exposed within it. Some people will not like this book because it’s simply not their cup of tea. Some people will not like this book because it strikes too close to home. But there is an audience for it. Of that I am sure. I surprised myself by discovering how much I did like this book. It’s not a pleasant story at all but it’s honest and somehow despite it all I appreciate the honesty in it. Will I read it again? I’m really not sure I will, but if I do it won’t be for a long while because as I said, it’s not a particularly happy tale.
I urge you to give it a go. Just read the first few chapters and see if you like it. You’ll know quite soon if you do or not.
The Casual Vacancy is a gritty unforgiving slice of humanity in the form of a small English town. Everyone’s truths, dark secrets, and honest nature are revealed to the reader in one steady, tragic tale.
Purchase here: The Casual Vacancy
Meet J.K. Rowling!
Although she writes under the pen name J.K. Rowling, pronounced like rolling, her name when her first Harry Potter book was published was simply Joanne Rowling. Rowling was born in Yate, Gloucestershire, England. As a child, Rowling often wrote fantasy stories, which she would usually then read to her sister. The Harry Potter books have sold 400 million copies worldwide. They are distributed in over 200 territories and are translated into 67 languages.