‘The Casual Vacancy’

J.K. Rowling, author of the popular “Harry Potter” series, recently released her very first “adult” novel. While it is not in any shape, form or fashion in the same category of adult novels as E.L. James’ “Fifty Shades of Grey,” it is certainly not a book that is suitable for children — or any person without a tolerance for swear words.

“The Casual Vacancy” is the story of the small town of Pagford, in Great Britain.  It is beautifully written and quite uniquely structured in terms of format; however, it can be a bit confusing.

We begin with the death of Parish Councillor Barry Fairbrother, leaving a casual vacancy in the council. The rest of the novel progresses through the election campaigns for his seat, revealing and raising the hostile tensions held throughout the town.

Because it is the story of a town and all its people, Rowling writes about several different characters, meaning that there are several plots within the main plot, and almost every character is in some way intertwined with the other characters. For me, this was a slight hitch in reading because it was a little difficult to determine what the big picture was.  

While Pagford has the appearance of quaint and quiet suburbia, Rowling reveals the mental, emotional and physical abuse within each family introduced, whether from drug dependence or poor anger management skills.

The book jacket makes clear that the town is in a state of “civil war,” and Rowling makes this painfully obvious. Teenagers fight with their parents, parents fight with other adults and the entire town is split over one political issue.

Rowling still does a wonderful job in channeling her inner teenager, just as she did in the “Harry Potter” series. She points out the main problem many teens face: the world doesn’t care what they do or say — they can’t make a difference.

Rowling pulls the reader into the novel with scenes of tragedy and cruelty, evoking sympathy and outrage from the audience. She furthers the lifelike tone of the story using realistic problems such as domestic abuse, rape and relationship troubles. Unlike in “Harry Potter” where there is an appointed “bad guy” with no redeeming qualities, “The Casual Vacancy” shows the reality of people. The characters are seen from several different perspectives that illustrate their dark and light sides, their downfalls and salvations.

All in all, I enjoyed this novel immensely. My only two problems with it were the variety of subplots and the length of the book; even though it was enticing, it was an almost tedious read.