In case you’ve been living under a rock, this novel is the first by J.K. Rowling, of Harry Potter fame, that is aimed at adult readers. And boy, does it show.
The novel kicks off with the sudden death of Barry Fairbrother, a Parish Council member in the fictional picturesque town of Pangford. In the wake of his of death, his neighbors and friends all hope to take his position and, of course, chaos ensues. Especially when the people who hope to be Barry’s successor, start to find some of their darkest secrets posted online.
Let me just say up front that while this novel is different from other books I usually read, I enjoyed it. When I began to read this, I promised myself I would not try to compare this novel to the Harry Potter books. How could I? Harry Potter was a fantasy story about good verses evil. And, this is a story about human weakness and immorality.
But as I began to read the book, I couldn’t help but think of the Harry Potter books to some degree. And this book does have parallels to that series.
One of the big plot points in this novel is the tension between the various classes, the haves and the have nots. For example, some of the well-to-do inhabitants of Pangford prefer that the housing project and clinic for recovering drug addicts be shut down. They don’t care that people who are less fortunate than they are need these two organizations.
Something J.K. Rowling does really well is make readers feel for her characters, whether the feeling is good or bad depends entirely on the way the character is written.
The Casual Vacancy explores themes darker than those explored within the Harry Potter series.
The teenage character, Krystal, who is the closest thing the novel has to a main character is foul-mouthed, hostile and has early on in her life seen the darker side of humanity. As a reader, you can’t help but sympathize for her because, sadly, she is a product of her environment.
One of the most frustrating things about this novel is the lack of back stories. Again, J.K. Rowling did this well in the Harry Potter series. But then again, she had seven books to do so.
This is not to say that it is impossible to give enough backstory in a standalone novel. I just felt not enough backstory was given on the various characters in the novel to make them seem fully fleshed out.
Be that as a it may, I still enjoyed this book and was impressed by J.K. Rowling’s crossover to writing for an adult audience. Not all authors can write for both adult and adolescent audiences in a believable way. With this novel, J.K. Rowling proves that she can.
If you’re a fan of J.K. Rowling’s writing, definitely read this book. It shows that Rowling has evolved as a writer and is ready to take on grittier and darker themes set in the real world.