The Casual Vacancy: J,K, Rowling

As an avid Harry Potter fan I was surprised when I learnt that J.K. Rowling had decided to turn her back on the world of wizards and instead pen a book for adults. I was increasingly surprised to learn we were leaving the potions and dragons behind for a case of a casual vacancy and a novel concerning a parish council election in a small West Country town. However I dutifully sat down to read and was happily surprised

In all, the Casual Vacancy is a solid and traditional book about a little town called Pagford. Resembling almost a study of life in a village town we learn about each of the characters as their stories weave and interlock unearthing nuggets of gossip concerning each other. However under the veneer of the hanging baskets and beautiful war memorial there is deceit growing with the cracks showing to reveal arrogance, condescension, sexual frustration, racism and a punch of snobbery. The plot however begins with the death of the hero. Barry Fairbrother falls on his knees and dies of a brain aneurysm in the car park of the local golf club. His death creates a “casual vacancy” on the local parish council and there are a number of people that are very happy to take his place. However the parish council have other plans and want to recruit one of their own, led by Howard Mollison the grotesquely obese delicatessen owner.

The main problem is that Barry was opposing the parish council on their plan to reassign the fields, a rundown estate to the council of Yarvil, a nearby city. This allows them to reassign the responsibility of addicts, and benefit claimers to Yarvil whilst keeping Pagford its beautiful unblemished self. The election continues until there is a post on the Parish website from the ghost of Barry Fairbrother causing unease and shock. The plot rumbles along and we meet a surprisingly large number of characters with different snags and hitches, whilst characters jostle and bustle to fill the parish council seat.

The plot although busy definitely has an underlying sense of organisation and a strong social message of a sense of responsibility to others and the devastating effects that will happen if we live to scheme and undermine other people. I don’t want to give much away about the characters because you need to discover and gain thought about them yourself but they are well presented and we can tell the definite change in social class and status. I loved the honesty of the life of Krystal and her mother Terri a drug addict that is unsuccessful trying to kick the habit and look after her little boy Robbie. The situation they are in whilst the people of Pagford try desperately to get them off their hands is extremely sobering and hurtful.The plot although sometimes predictable staggers along to a climax that left me shocked but not disappointed.  I never lie, so I won’t here; it’s not a spell binding masterpiece that will one day become a classic, but it’s not bad at all, seeing the building of the characters and seeing how their lack of empathy and their obsessive attitudes to filling the Parish Council leads to the final climax of the dramatic ending.

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10 thoughts on “The Casual Vacancy: J,K, Rowling

    • littlebookblog says:

      I thought it was very interesting. Very different to Harry Potter but it a good way 🙂 what did you like about it? 🙂

      • literaryvittles says:

        i liked that J.K. Rowling took the time to peel back each layer of society in the small, fictional town of Pagford. She didn’t take anything for granted, but rather explained how tiny prejudices led certain members of the town to lead privileged lives while others were condemned to government handouts. Also, her capacity to keep track of and interleave multiple storylines is astounding. I know she did it in Harry Potter as well, but it’s been a while since I’ve read anything of hers and I can definitely see the influence she’s had on other writers in that regard (besides reinvigorating the entire fantasy genre, of course).

      • littlebookblog says:

        Completely agree with you! At the end I was overwhelmed by the amount of loose ends she managed to bring together without it becoming ridiculous. She really looked at the underlying stories and didn’t rely on one over arching story with the minor stories being less explored but each of the characters held their own which was brilliant. I thought you could definitely tell it was her writing style however I thought it held it’s own as her first story branching out from the fantasy theme.

  1. literaryvittles says:

    yes, definitely! As you said, it’s not going to become a classic, but it was certainly an admirable attempt. And I feel like she had a lot to get off her chest after the somewhat sappy ending to the Harry Potter books (not that the ending of the series wasn’t justified to some degree). By the way, have you considered adding the “Follow by email” button to your sidebar? It is under the “widgets” tab in “appearance.” Sometimes posts get lost in the wordpress feed, and I would like to read more of your reviews!

    • littlebookblog says:

      I think it was definitely something for her to break free from HP. I was a huge fan of the series however was very impressed to see her take on something so different and so ‘normal’? If that makes sense!

      I have never heard of a “Follow by email” does that mean you get emails when I post things on here? I will definitely do that if it makes it easier for people to follow my blog! So glad you enjoy my reviews!

      • literaryvittles says:

        Yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like! People can subscribe by email, regardless of whether they have a WordPress account, and receive an email each time you publish a new post. I check my email every single day (as I suspect many people do), and it is a more convenient way for me to follow blogs.

        I think JK Rowling’s decision to write “The Casual Vacancy” makes a lot more sense if you know that she spent time on welfare (or public assistance, as they call it in the UK). I think she got the opportunity to explain herself and her actions, albeit in a very creative way. And the wonderful thing is that she didn’t turn it into a personal defense, but rather a sharply attuned criticism of middle-class society.

  2. Kim @ Tranquil Dreams says:

    The best part of The Casual Vacancy has to go to the character development. Although abundant and for me, sometimes confusing, it still worked well enough. The ending was much stronger than the entire book to me. It was relatively honest as well. I didn’t enjoy this quite as much as you did but its one I’m guessing if I were to read again, I’d catch onto a little bit more detail and maybe like it a little more. I do think JK Rowling has promise as a writer for an older audience but this one hit a little below the mark for me. It definitely had a lot of potential to be better.

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