As the UK’s best-selling author of our time, J.K. Rowling knew there would be high expectations for her first non-children’s novel. Luckily, she met them. I was impressed at her talent for creating a not-so-idyllic small town and its colorful cast of characters that made this one a page-turner.
The Casual Vacancy takes place in the English village of Pagford, where gossip is the way of life. The sudden death of the beloved Barry Fairbrother, a member of the town’s local council, leaves the citizens to recover and the vacant political seat to be filled. In the process, members of the community turn against each other and a war ensues. It’s not just prospective council members who are battling it out though. Married couples, parents and children, in-laws, old friends – it seems everyone has a bone to pick with somebody.
The story is told from several different perspectives. From the self-declared “First Citizens” right down to the people of The Fields – the rundown, drug-ridden area just outside of Pagford. The anglophile in me was satisfied with Rowling’s writings of the English countryside, cobblestone and flower pots, and quaint village shops. However, I also appreciated the brutally honest representations of each main character. Indeed no person is flawless, and it is refreshing in a way. You’ll find yourself disgusted, ashamed, and embarrassed for these folks, and at the same time you will root for each one of their selfish causes. You may even find that you relate to some of these characters in more ways than one.
Unlike her previous novels, there are no supernatural elements in the story. There are, however, plenty of coming-of-age plot lines which are all well worth the read. Rowling also nailed each adult character (the drug-addicted mother and her rebellious teenage daughter, the lonely 40-something salesman, the unsatisfied wives) with such precision that you wonder how many personal experiences she pulls from. If you’re a Harry Potter fan looking for a grown-up Rowling novel, you’ve found it. Get ready for a darkly entertaining novel.