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Review of J.K.Rowling's new book 'The Casual Vacancy'

Updated on December 3, 2012

J.K.Rowling’s ‘The Casual Vacancy’- a Dose of Reality

From magic to reality, from black and white to all shades of grey, from emotions of valor, bravery and sacrifice to the tale of gritty survival and wrecked up lives. This is J.K.Rowling’s ride from the famous Harry Potter series to her first novel for adults -The Casual Vacancy. Without knowing the name on the book cover, you would never realize that she is the same lady whose pen once authored tales of flying brooms or magical wands, of goblins and house elves and of all things we loved about the Harry Potter tales.

Rather than to venture further into investigating the world of magic, Rowling takes a sharp new turn in her writing habits, turning to the world we all live in with the Casual Vacancy. With a sturdy plot set in the background of a local election, she tackles a wide variety of issues with as much success as Hermione did with her exams. Despite handling a lot of sensitive issues, she never lets a hint of judgment get into her writing and does not indulge in a lot of moral commenting in her story telling either.


The book revolves around an election for a vacant seat in the Parish Council which makes key decisions for the welfare of the town of Pagford. The vacancy results due to an unfortunate death of one of the members. The story builds as contestants put in their names for the election and try gathering support. However, it would be foolish to regard the book as a political thriller as it is anything but one.

The book actually revolves around a key decision which is to be made by the Council soon after the elections are done with. The decision is regarding the retention of Fields within Pagford and about the decision of continued running of a treatment centre for drug addicts and small criminals found usually in the Fields.

Barry Fairbrother, the deceased member of the Council, was a great supporter of the Fields and it was because of him that Fields had continued to remain a part of Pagford till now. However, his death gives his opposition the chance to do away with Fields once and for all. As a result, the election actually pans out to be an affair between the Pro-Fields, or should I say, pro-Fairbrother contestant and the anti-Fields contestant.

Even though the face-off in the elections remains the main focus of the book, Rowling doesn’t shy away from involving a number of strong sub-plots. It may feel that there are too many sub-plots to handle and that they distract from the actual story-line but with superb story telling instincts, Rowling easily connects the sub-plots with the main story at the end and keeps them interlinked at all times to keep the reader engaged without any problems.

The story is narrated as a film being played in front of the reader as the characters fight their personality issues and tackle the problems they face in life which sets perfectly with the story line and the kind of aura Rowling seemingly wanted to build. It is interesting to see that her narration style for Casual Vacancy is in stark contrast to the one she adopted in Harry Potter, where the reader saw what Harry saw, listened what Harry listened and thought what Harry thought.

Rowling tackles the issues of the delicate relationships between parents and children in detail throughout the book and it is the nature of these relationships which actually lead to adding interest and drama in the lead up to the elections. Rowling touches on how neglect/anger or both combined on the part of parents can actually put their children in a wide variety of complexes and can lead to actions on their part which can create numerous problems for the parents as a result. Moreover, she extensively touches on the topic of child abuse and infuses in her story the effects on the lives of the abused and their generations to come, and goes on to give one such girl the most important and integral role in the novel.

The magic weaver


Probably the best thing about The Casual Vacancy remains the depiction of the small town of Pagford and the technologically left behind area of Pagford- the Fields. While you may never get the hint of the same author who wrote Harry Potter as far as the story is concerned, you would realize that she hasn’t lost an inch of her ability to easily create an image of what she writes and describes in her passages. Rowling used her capability to create an entire world for her readers in Harry Potter and she does the same in Casual Vacancy by easily ‘inking’ vivid images of the town. One can easily imagine the cobbled roads, the café at the centre of the city, the house on the hill-top and the deteriorating situation of Fields and its residents.

Another area where the book excels is in describing the feelings and actions of all the teenagers involved. Rowling, somehow touches the right cord every time in describing the feelings of the teens and probably succeeds in doing a better job in this book as compared to her previous seven. Four teenagers remain an integral part of the story and every character’s thoughts, insecurities and actions remain as perfectly described as possible.

Rowling also handles the influx of a large number of characters with extreme ease. For any other writer, maintaining the characters of such a large amount might not have been easy but with Rowling, it seems a piece of cake. It is not only the fact one can’t point out a single character which seems useless or extra but also the amazing ability of hers to build all characters in such a manner that their actions seem justified to the reader even without any explanations. Furthermore, it is interesting that she does not portray any of her characters as Godlike or innocent, but it seems that she wants her readers to acknowledge that every person has his flaws and that you can’t label someone as bad just because their opinions or actions are different than yours.

Too dark?

There isn’t much to criticize in the book other than the fact that it remains totally devoid of humor or light moments. This remains the only reason that it took me more than three sittings to finish the book as I simply couldn’t handle all the realism and the bitter truth about our societies in one go. Probably, Rowling could’ve added a few light-hearted moments and a few dialogues which actually make the reader laugh rather than continuing with jokes which are so dark that sometimes I had an urge to puke.

Final Thoughts

Other than this, there isn’t much to fault in the masterful writer’s impressive work. With reality and bitter truths dripping from each corner of the book, the ending of the book is completely justified as well. Probably, the ending remains the only moment when I could’ve afforded a smile as even though it left me heart-wrenched and on the verge of tears, I know it has something about it which should make everyone smile.

Lastly, I believe that more than anything else, the book makes you think and lets you question your inner beliefs about people and whether its right to leave drug addicts and victims of child abuse on their own as they are responsible for their own actions or should the hope of improving the life of a single person in a hundred be enough for you to continue supporting the other 99 wretched lives. It remains a question that the book leaves unanswered and while Rowling gives an indication of what would happen in the story, it remains a different question whether you would allow the same in your own society.

All in all, The Casual Vacancy remains a remarkable comeback for a writer whom many assumed won’t be able to distance herself from the legend of Harry Potter but distance herself she does! Even though, the book remains one of the darkest books that Rowling would ever write, it remains a must-read for all who are looking forward to a story with solid characters having humane capabilities, a story with real purpose!


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    • viveresperando profile image

      viveresperando 4 years ago from A Place Where Nothing Is Real

      Enjoyed this review. Great share.