The Casual Vacancy, by J.K. Rowling

vacancyI am a huge Harry Potter fan; the kind who wept upon finishing the final book in the series – it felt truly like the end of an era. When Rowling came out with her next project after Harry Potter, an adult novel, I wasn’t terribly interested. I loved Harry Potter for the imaginative new world that Rowling had created coupled with an amazing sense of suspense! I never thought the writing itself was that great and figured an adult novel wouldn’t have that imaginative quality to it. So why did I pick it up at all? I had just finished one rather disturbing novel and half-read two others that I put down because they were either too sad (The Goldfinch) or too boring (The Blind Assassin). Essentially I was keen to read a piece of fluff and I was somewhat curious as to what Rowling would write for an adult audience. Well I certainly got my piece of fluff. The novel chronicles the goings-on in Pagford, a small British town, after the sudden death of the universally loved local councillor, Barry Fairbrother. Before he died, Barry was instrumental in the struggle to keep ‘The Fields’ in Pagford, the poorest area of town where those on social assistance live government housing. While Barry is portrayed as kind and compassionate, his death reveals that he was an anomaly among local residents and his fellow councillors. The novel features about ten or so different characters, rotating perspectives to reveal their relationship to Barry, their views on The Fields controversy, and the mini-drama that is their individual lives. It is a long, meandering read. There were times when I stopped to try to ascertain the point of it all. While the decision on what would happen to The Fields was clearly the apex of the story, it was unclear as to why Rowling required 503 pages to get there. Midway through I decided to stop being frustrated by this and instead read the novel like I would watch a soap opera: with a detached, vague interest in what happens to the various characters. I’m not sure if it was Rowling’s intention that the reader dislike every character (with the notable exception of Krystal Weedon), but if so, then it was a job well done. I heaved a sigh of relief when I finally reached the end. While I did not enjoy the novel very much, it certainly strengthened my resolve to never live in a small town.


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