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Book Review The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

Updated on December 28, 2013
The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling
The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling | Source

A big novel about a small town…

Summary sourced from

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 fa├žade 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.

The Casual Vacancy is set in the small town of Pagford and follows the lives of its citizens after the sudden death of one of its parish counsellors. Although this was not exactly something I'd normally read, I was determined to give it a go. J.K. Rowlling's writing does not disappoint and although it took awhile for me to get into the book, the small town politics dragged me in and I became a reluctant spectator of the various disasters that were about to unfold.

Dislcaimer: This is not Harry Potter

For those out there hoping to read a sequel to J.K. Rowling's epic Harry Potter series, sorry guys, but you'll be disappointed. The book cover clearly shows it. The summary of the book clearly shows it. All the reviews clearly shows it. This is an adult fiction set in a small town in the English countryside. There is no magic, no hidden train platform and no boy with a lightning scar on his forehead. I've heard from plenty of readers who bemoans the fact that this is not Harry Potter, almost as if J.K. Rowling had somehow managed to trick them into buying this book with the promise of more Hogwarts. I've always been confused why so many readers complain about it. Surely, they knew going in, right?

Warning: may contain spoilers from this point onwards

The book opens with the sudden death of Barry Fairweather, on the day of his anniversary to his wife Mary. At first, it appeared to be simply a tragic end to a man's short but busy life. Barry was on the parish council, coached the local school's girls rowing team which won last year, had a close-knit family and was campaigning to keep the Fields, the small sprawling estate that lay just outside the neighboring city of Yarvil but belonged technically to Pagford.

It was that last issue that really divided what on the surface appeared to be an idyllic small English town. Some residents of Pagford perceived the Fields as nothing but a drain on their resources and would love to cut them loose and redistribute the Fields to Yarvll. Others, like Barry,, were against the proposal. Barry had grown up in the Fields himself and believed the source of his success was in all the opportunities Pagford had afforded him.

The death of Barry Fairweather left a casual vacancy in the parish council and those wanting to redistribute the Fields saw this as an opportunity to push their agenda forward. Those against the move and/or loyal to Fairweather wanted to put forward an alternative candidate. And there were others on the outside who wanted to join the ranks of the council. What's more, secrets from behind closed doors began leaking out, one by one, onto the council's online forum under the name "the Ghost of Barry Fairweather." It was against this small town political backdrop that the stories in the town unfolded.

The reader is quickly introduced to the various residents in this small town, Husbands and wives, parents and children, friends and neighbors, all of whom have a story of their own to tell. Through their stories, the reader is forced to contemplate the issues that Rowling wanted to discuss: class discrimination, poverty, drug abuse, domestic violence, racial discrimination and self-harm.


Overall, the experience...

Once the reader gets used to the big cast of characters, the reading experience can be a combination of intrigue and frustration. The characters are all well-built, the plots and secrets believable, and the issues that they raise are all too real. But that, to an extent, is also the drawback to the novel. Most, if not all the characters, are either horrible or miserable. Rowling is unapologetic in her portrayal of the everyday working life. She forces us to confront the ugliness of society, and for those seeking an escape from reality into a good novel, they may not find it in this book.

Although the Casual Vacancy may not be considered a masterpiece, and there are plenty of disappointed readers who failed to find the magic of Harry Potter within this book, it is still a book full of difficult issues that are worth contemplating. If this book was published without the drawing power of J.K. Rowling's name, I still believe it would have done well.

Overall: 3.5/5

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