Review: The Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling

thecasualvacancyPublished by: Little, Brown and Company
ISBN: 0316228532
ISBN 13: 9780316228534
Published: September 2012
Pages: 503
Format reviewed: Hardcover
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Lists: Recommended

‘The Casual Vacancy’ by J. K. Rowling is a contemporary piece of literature, seasoned with a dash of – well, people seem to be saying mystery, but I hesitantly don’t agree. I simply see it as a harsh view on society that isn’t exactly nice to read, but would have to agree that more spotlight probably needs to be shown on such areas. I have the feeling that the style of life shown within this book is more prevalent than many of us would like to think on.

Barry Fairbrother dies within the first few pages – the rest of the book shows those who knew and interacted with him trying to deal with the aftermath. While their little village of Padford seems quaint with its cobbled marketplace and ancient abbey, what really exists beyond this visual is failing marriages, mentally unwell adults and children, domestic abuse, drug use and so on.

The book is named because Barry Fairbrother owned a seat on the parish council, and it: ‘is a situation in which a seat in a deliberative assembly is vacated during that assembly’s term. Casual vacancies arise through the death, resignation or disqualification of the sitting member.’

The council is currently divided and Barry was a well-loved representative known for his stance on helping those who live in ‘the Fields’ (where the poor and those living on council benefits mostly live). Those against him are jubilant in the hopes they’ll be able to replace him with someone on their side, so they can move jurisdiction of ‘the Fields’ to the neighbouring city, and get rid of the addiction clinic which to them is seen as a drain of money.

Hereon we see those who supported and worked against Barry, their families and those who are affected even in the smallest way by his passing.

While at times I felt a little confusion at how many characters there are (and who they’re related and interacting with, and whether they’re the one that steals or the one that’s currently avoiding that girl or deputy at the school – it was good in that J. K. managed to get a lot about the characters conveyed to the reader with a minimal amount of dialogue or backstory. Her description is akin to that in her Harry Potter series, yet that’s virtually it. There’s no holding back with the drug and sex scenes, nor with the domestic abuse, so yes, this is a book for adults – anyone who wants to read it because they loved Harry Potter would probably be disappointed, as there’s really no connection at all between the two.

The characters are almost like those in the movie ‘Love Actually’, how a character you see interact with a few characters here, then appears over here also with these other few characters. It takes the otherwise almost simply plot and turns it thick, fast moving yet detailed, and an added depth exists because of the nature of the plot, and the lives that are at stake.

I didn’t cry at the ending (as J. K. said she did) but I will say that the character it ends with was my favourite for reasons I can’t quite put my finger on. While all characters in this are uncompromisingly desperate for their own ‘win’ or survival, she is perhaps the most desperate.

If I had to compare it to anything, I would compare it to that of ‘Stonemouth’ by Iain Banks, for the bleak view of the world, the small village and the misery within.

I have no negatives about the book. It was very heavy, quite sad in parts, and a bit hard to read for how ‘real’ and depressing it was, but it told a good story. Some characters were uncomfortably recognisable, but mostly I felt glad to live where I do, in the family structure I do, with the friends, work place and colleagues that I do.

This review was originally posted at SentientOnline on the 3rd October 2012. 

2 thoughts on “Review: The Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling

  1. I agree, it has all the greatness of the Harry Potter books, while being in no way similar. I loved it, though read it the entire thing with that awkward feeling of knowing how real it is. That we’ve all (mostly, me included), deep in our heart of hearts, made those kind of judgements and not stopped to think about the reasons why. And I consider myself to be a fairly non-judgemental person. Brilliant stuff.

    • Hurrah for someone agreeing! All I’ve seen mostly is people complain about the book, or some saying it’s too real and not enjoyable. I don’t think we’re meant to enjoy it – beyond the appreciation of what she’s done. Perhaps J. K. was using her fame and the fact many would buy this book no matter what, to spread the message that many want to ignore or many aren’t aware of in the slightest. Confronting. Don’t think I could read it again, but I’m very glad to have read it.

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