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.