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The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

Successful Break-Away From a Phenomenon

J.K. Rowling, the best-selling author of the Harry Potter series has returned with a brand new novel, The Casual Vacancy: a whole different genre for a very different audience. There are no wizards, a magical boarding school, nor dark lord to defeat. But if you keep an open mind, the characters and story will draw you into a new, interesting world.

The Casual Vacancy tells the story of a small town’s reaction to death of Barry Fairbrother, the mayor-esque figure of the town of Pagford. The rest of the novel recounts the battle for Fairbrother’s mayor seat and the consequences that happen because of this contest.

Most, if not all, Harry Potter fans, like myself, will find the first several chapters of the book a bit difficult. I had to remind myself, “This is not Harry Potter.” Because Rowling had done a phenomena-inducing seven-book series as her premiere, it is hard to separate her from the children’s fantasy genre she has become so famous for. As I read the first couple of chapters, I kept waiting for a wizard to appear, something, anything magical. And I found myself disappointed when it did not happen. However, I tried to keep an open mind and soon after, it was not hard to be drawn in by the quirky, very real characters and the stories they wanted to tell. I can only commend J.K. Rowling for pushing her boundaries, for not staying in her comfort zone. She attempts to become a versatile author, and I believe she succeeds in her first attempt to break away from the Harry Potter name that sometimes overshadows her.

There might be some who complain about a seeming lack of plot, and that is a legitimate complaint. This story does not have a compelling story-line like Harry Potter. However, it is not without one. The overarching plot is driven by the conflict of Pagford’s empty mayor seat. It is not as dire in our eyes as the overarching story of defeating Lord Voldemort; however, the residents of Pagford definitely see their dilemma as a do-or-die situation. And if you are willing to become one of them for the duration of the novel, you start to see it the same way as well.

But Rowling definitely takes more time with her characters in this book than in Harry Potter. This novel is more of a character-study than a plot-propelled novel. There are plethora of different characters, and we meet many of them in their own perspectives. And Rowling uses the plot to reveal who these characters are. How do these character react to what is happening around them? Her characters are very real. None of them are stock. Sometimes they are the heroes, the villains, the lovers, etc. They are all complex and have different facets to them, like real human beings. Eventually, these personalities become real people to the readers, not just characters.

Rowling is a master of words. Her style is impeccable. However, her true genius shines in her description of characters, “Andrew spotted Krystal Weedon, byword and dirty joke.” She has a quirky way of describing her characters in ways that no one would ever think to do, but the readers immediately recognize what kind of character he/she is by Rowling’s description.

If I had to find something to dislike about the novel, I would be hard-pressed. Personally, the sexual content and crass words made me uncomfortable. However, she is writing for adults and writing about real people, the good and ugly. I do not think the sexual content or crass language was indulgent. There was a purpose behind what she decided to put in. But I personally found it very uncomfortable at times to read. If you are a parent, I would definitely not recommend that you give this book to your young children! But for adults, do not be fooled by J.K. Rowling’s previous works.

I would highly recommend this book. However, if you are specifically seeking out to read a book similar story-wise or genre-wise to Harry Potter, do not pick up this book. But if you enjoy J.K. Rowling as a writer and story-teller than this book has so much to offer to you. She will not disappoint readers, like me, who just want to read a well-written story.