The Casual Vacancy by J K Rowling: Book Review

Casual VacancyWhat is says on the inside cover:

A big novel about a small town… 

When Barry Fairbrother dies in his early forties, the town of Pagford is left in shock. Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, but what lies behind the pretty façade is a town at war.

Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils…Pagford is not what it first seems. 

And the empty seat left by Barry on the Parish Council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen. Who will triumph in an election fraught with passion, duplicity and unexpected revelations? 

A big novel about a small town, The Casual Vacancy is J.K Rowling’s first novel for adults. It is the work of a storyteller like no other. 


Having heard so much about J K Rowling’s debut into adult fiction I was insistent that I just had to have a copy of The Casual Vacancy and I felt it was burning a hole in my desk throughout the day until the evening came when I could finally step into Rowling’s world. Despite my excitement, I stepped with a certain degree of trepidation, having not read any of the Harry Potter series and I must say I admire Rowling’s courage in moving away from her comfort zone in children’s fiction.

The book opens with a councillor’s untimely death and the subsequent effects that resonate through all sections of the local community and local council; Rowling’s writing captures the humanity, confusion and ultimate selfishness of death. Having experienced the death of a parent, she clearly writes from truth which added much authenticity and realism to the story.

Having said this, Rowling tends to dispense too much detail about council relations  and she seemed to take a long time to get to the point. Some portions of book read as a textbook and there were a number of pages without speech, which for a work of fiction does not always read well and more often than not, I found myself skipping a number of pages or forgetting a lot of the detail. I felt that Rowling had made the mistake of ‘telling’ more than ‘showing’ and having read the amount of books I have, I’ve discovered that you can learn more through dialogue than reams of text. In hindsight, it may have been more beneficial to the reader if Rowling provided a list of characters at the beginning of the book along with their role in the story and relationship to other characters to lower the confusion level for many of her readers.

Reading The Casual Vacancy, I felt that Rowling had incorporated too many characters into the story and it seemed they were vying for the reader’s attention and unfortunately I lost the potential message or theme of the book. Even pivotal events were lost to me in the constant council in-fighting and back stabbing, which on some occasions left a bad after-taste and I found myself only able to read a certain amount at a time. None of the characters are particularly likeable even the antagonists and I found much of the text read as a lecture rather than a tale of action and suspense.

I feel that perhaps Rowling was fighting against having to write for the public and after Harry Potter she is now in the enviable position of writing what she wants. Although her position is a dream for any writer, I believe you still have to write for your public to a certain degree in order for your work to be appreciated fully. The Casual Vacancy addresses many of society’s discriminatory judgements on  certain sections of society, particularly the lower classes. Unfortunately too many causes are trying to be addressed and too many characters are vying for the protagonist’s role. Even Harry Potter was ultimately about one character while all others were involved in a more supportive capacity.

Rowling’s poverty stricken life prior to her Harry Potter success has been no secret, for this reason when Rowling writes of the poverty and harshness of her a particular set of characters, she writes with the authority of an insider, of having “been there” and of understanding what they are going through and how their lives are affected by society and politics.

In the  end, if you are interested in politics or have experience of politics (as does Rowling), The Casual Vacancy will appeal to you, however if you are more interested in the social aspects of community life, you will not find Rowling’s debut into adult fiction  particularly engaging.

Opening Image: my own


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. grandmac
    Dec 08, 2012 @ 20:55:49

    Not harsh enough!


  2. Rubyslippers
    Dec 13, 2012 @ 23:09:26

    Having absolutely no interest in policies whatsoever, I don’t think I will be bothering with it. Being written by J K Rowling and having read some of the Harry Potter books I might have been tempted. Thanks for the insight! You are great at writing reviews!!!!! X


  3. Trackback: The Myths of Labour and Motherhood Revealed « Alphabet Games

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