Book Review: The Casual Vacancy By J.K. Rowling

J.D. Salinger saidWhat really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you would call him up whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much though”

My first thought – well, I had many, but one of the very first mutterings in my head, when I read this book was, how did Jo ( I like to call her that, it feels like we’re old friends, well, since she wrote that er, other series) make this book so unique and so appealing to adults? I wish I could have called her up instantly.  There was so much I wanted to say. Well, that would mean I was stalking her and um, I didn’t have her special number. You see, very few authors make me react the way  Rowling does. She makes me pound a fist on the table, she makes me cry and she makes my heart swell with joy, it is a simultaneous flow of emotion.

A few pages into the book, it became quite clear, shockingly clear in fact, how utterly different it was from Harry Potter. There are no magical manifestations here. However, some of the elements do exist – abandonment, tragedy, kindness and the failing of society.  This is Rowling pure and simple. I gulped her words exhaustively. I love her style of writing. It is percipient, witty and perfectly British. She is at her best when writing about socially conflicted individuals and unlikely heroes. I get it. For those that were expecting magical mayhem, this would be twisted, disappointing and boring. That’s not to say I loved every part of it, It wasn’t perfect. Then again, that’s what makes it so brilliant.

The characters in this novel are a dysfunctional lot. They are flawed in so many ways that it is too much to bear. Those characteristics spill out of the pages with a sort of startling tangibility. It makes you emote your sentiments for these people almost immediately, as you grasp their raw presence. While I turned page after page, they stood there, each and every one of them, smirking, arrogant, pleading to be saved, angry, sad and lost.

Pagford, the centre of activity in the book, is very small, yet idyllic in many ways. Like many towns with well to- do people, who think they are above common afflictions, they are quite a bit snooty. Councilman Barry Fairbrother’s sudden death spins the entire gossip filled community into a whirlpool of petty, shameful and shocking behavior. Judgments are cast freely upon those who are struggling to deal with their own demons as chaos wields its power over the town. As the race begins, to fill Fairbrother’s vacant seat, citizens of Pagford are divided into those who want ‘The Fields’ with its Bellchappel Methodone clinic to stay in Pagford, and those who don’t.  Fairbrother’s death unites, as council members find out about his work to keep the Fields, and separates, as those who disagree violently, did not like Fairbrother and want ‘The Fields’ to join local city, Yarvil. As the date of the election approaches, the children of certain council members take matters into their own hands and begin to wage a battle of their own, online, posting accurate descriptions of the goings on within their families, trying to reveal startling, dark aspects of the various candidates. We then begin to meet these young people who display such deplorable qualities, you sort of have to gather yourself together, to expect the worst. Just when you think it is all over, it isn’t. I started to wonder if they( the teenagers) weren’t just misunderstood, they were simply angst ridden teens looking for trouble. I was wrong, well, maybe. That being said, I felt the beginning was a little too slow, a very poor assumption on my part, it was simply a detailed build up to the end of an unexpected story. This isn’t some great murder mystery or a huge battle between the “good,” holier than-thou citizens of Pagford and the lost citizens of Pagford. It is a story about loss and hardship, about rape and addiction, about survival and heroism.

My favorite characters as always are those with flaws. While I loathed some, I adored others. Sukhvinder Jawanda will always stay with me. She is one of Rowling’s unlikely heroines. She surprised me quite a bit. She found her strength through misery. Then there was Stuart ‘Fats’ Wall, who is simply the worst teen character I have ever encountered. I have no words to paint his picture, his behavior stems from a past that I will not reveal for it is crucial to understanding who he is. Simon Price is another loathsome man who wields his power through abuse. Mary Fairbrother was a conundrum. I didn’t like her at all and then I did, but I don’t know why I liked her. She wasn’t particularly revealing, nor was she striking. She seemed selfish to me. I had no personal connection to her, even though she was the widow of Barry Fairbrother. I connected the most with Krystal Whedon. She had gumption. She deserved love. She carved her name on my heart and I fell apart for her. Howard Mollison – leader of the Parish council – made me laugh. He adds humor to this strong, socially themed story. Rowling made his character darkly humorous, which I enjoyed tremendously as I enjoyed his relationship with his wife Shirley. The other stand-out character for me was social worker Kay Bawden. Throughout her struggle to find love, her heart seemed to be connected to those that needed her. There are many layers to this story, each one reveals a tiny bit of where the story is heading, yet the end is a surprise. I cannot say more for while it is tempting to talk about, I risk saying too much.

I can only hope Rowling continues to provide her readers( me) with more food for thought, more characters that need rescuing and those that bleed out of the pages of her books.  The Casual Vacancy left me broken and bereft, yet repaired my faith in the written word. It isn’t a perfect ending for me personally, but it is an ending that is perfect for Rowling, and quite honestly, it is all that matters.

Book : A Casual Vacancy By J.K. Rowling

  • Hardback, 503 pages
  • Published by, Little, Brown and Company
  • First Edition, September 2012
  • ISBN 978-0-316-22853-4(hc)/ 978-0-316-22854-1
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7 thoughts on “Book Review: The Casual Vacancy By J.K. Rowling

  1. You really must write a book of your own, you have such an imagination, such a descriptive style of writing. I am sure you would be up their with Jo’s of the world darling xxx

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    • She does, she does * nodding vehemently*
      I will let her know she needs to start writing book 8 and ask for her private number so we can talk to her a bit more about her plans for the next book.

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  2. You won’t be surprised to learn that I own the book, but haven’t read it yet (hangs head in shame). The reviews for this novel have been such that it’s been difficult for me to get a clear idea about the book. Having read your review, I will read it. Thank you 🙂 And completely agree …she needs to write book 8. What was she thinking ending that series?!

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    • It is an interesting read among other things Monica, I love Rowling, no matter what she write am I will in it. I saw so many mixed reviews, so many who thought this would be like Harry Potter, so many who expected an adult novel to have young themes and yet, when did J.K. ever write without a good dose of realism in her books. I wanted it to be different from the HP series, I got it but I didn’t like the ending. I wanted more 🙂 I can’t wait for you to read it

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