The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

200px-The_Casual_Vacancy The Casual Vacancy
by J.K. Rowling

First, a confession: I have never read J.K. Rowlings’s Harry Potter series.  I very well may be one of very, very few holdouts.  There are a couple of reasons I’ve never read them: first, I’m not necessarily a big fan of YA or children’s literature – not that I absolutely won’t read anything in those genres, but they are not my preferred genres.  Also, I have found that the more everyone and their brother is reading something, the more I balk.  Not that I don’t read best sellers!  It’s hard to explain.  It’s like this: if people keep telling me, “You have to read this!” the mule rebel in me silently yells, “Back off, Mofo!”

I bought The Casual Vacancy when it was first released a while back – mostly for my then-fifteen-year old son to read because he’s a huge J.K. Rowling – or at least Harry Potter – fan, and I also thought I might read it eventually, because it’s not Harry Potter.  Kevin read it and enjoyed it but advised me that I probably wouldn’t like it because it’s “depressing.”

Then it was chosen by my book club for this month, so I read it.

I liked it.  A lot.

The setting is Pagford, a quaint little town in England, situated next to the larger, much less quaint town of Yarvil.  A certain plot of land was transferred from one to the other town a number of years back, and on that plot of land a housing development named The Fields went up.  the Fields houses hoodlums, ruffians, junkies, prostitutes, dealers, and down-and-outers.  Oh, and Bellchapel Clinic which doles out methadone and treats the addicts.  The Fields is a blight on Pagford’s topography, and the citizens of Pagford want it transferred back to Yarvil.

The story opens with the untimely death of one Barry Fairbrother, Pagford Parish Council member and beloved citizen and resident.  Fairbrother was one of the few champions of The Fields and Bellchapel, and with his death, which creates an empty seat on the Parish Council (or a casual vacancy), the disagreements that quietly simmered below the picturesque surface of Pagford blow up into an all out civil war of sorts.  Families are at war with each other, council members are at war with each other and with town residents, teens are at war with their parents.  There are so many memorable characters and intersecting of relationships – for the first third or so of the book I had trouble keeping track of everyone, but that’s probably the only negative thing I can say about this book.  At the center of the story is a family who live in The Fields, and their plight is bleak and heart wrenching.  The story culminates in events that completely took me by surprise – all along I saw what I thought was foreshadowing and I thought I knew exactly what was going to happen – but boy, was I wrong.

Very adult themes – reading it, I was cringing a little knowing that my teenage son had already read it (although I know I read at least as bad, if not worse, when I was his age).

This story really got in my head, and I think it will stay with me for a while.

And, I may even read Harry Potter now.

9 thoughts on “The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

  1. I’m with you on this and even through I read the 1st one. Did see all of the movies and tried read this one. In the end had no luck getting into HP 2nd book in the series because I was reading something else at that particular time and couldn’t get back into it. This latest book wasn’t one of the greatness, well at least in my eyes.

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  2. I am also a voracious reader and I balk when people say I MUST! READ! THIS! BOOK! and I did the same with Harry Potter in the beginning, but, oh…I am a Harry Potter freak now. Total nerd. Love them. LOVE. I tried this book because I was desperate for her to write more Harry Potter and I couldn’t get into it. Probably because the whole time I was wishing she would just write a new series, damnit. Anyway, I may give it another shot. 🙂

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  3. Interesting… I started reading the Harry Potter series after hearing on a news program that there was some controversy surrounding it and some parents wanting it banned, etc. I’m not one to read something just because it’s getting a lot of hype, but when there’s a question of censorship, it intrigues me. That was when there were only three books out, and I was hooked after reading those three….read all of the others as soon as they were published. I am so impressed with J.K. Rowling’s skill and imagination.

    That said, I had this book preordered and dowloaded it the day it came out. I wasn’t expecting Harry Potter, but I was disappointed. I read less than half of it and just became too discouraged with it to go on. As your son said, it just seemed so depressing. I got tired of reading more and more about discontent people and their crappy lives. Plus, although it does have a plot, it doesn’t seem to have much “story” to it. Seems more like a social commentary to me, and, although that’s okay, I just couldn’t seem to get into it.

    So….I was really interested to see what you had to say about it. I seem to have very similar tastes in reading to yours most of the time, and have gotten several samples and eventually entire books based on your reviews. Now, like Amy, I think I will “give it another shot.” I am intrigued by your statement about the surprising conclusion.

    Thanks for your insight. Now I’m curious again.

    Oh…also…I just read this morning on Twitter that she has another book out. It came out in April, but was published under that name Robert Galbraith, and somebody just recently revealed that it was her. It’s a crime drama, and the title is The Cuckoo’s Calling.

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  4. Here’s a quote from J.K. about it. “I had hoped to keep this secret a little longer because being Robert Galbraith has been such a liberating experience,” she said. “It has been wonderful to publish without hype or expectation, and pure pleasure to get feedback under a different name.”

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