As a serious Harry Potter fan, my eye couldn’t help but catch the author’s name on the spine. But I was hesitant to pull this book off the shelf because my inner 11-year-old couldn’t imagine JK Rowling writing anything without The Boy Who Lived. Despite my cause for pause, I picked it up anyway, and read the jacket cover, then flipped to a random page and read. Finding Rowling’s cheeky humor, a la Ron Weasley, in less than a paragraph, I said what the bloody hell, and checked it out of the library.
The story starts off rather dramatically- a sudden death, not even 5 pages into the 500 page novel. Barry Fairbrother’s ill fate sets a wave of motion about the town of Pagford. As word of his death spreads (as juicy gossip or tragic loss, depending on the news-bearer), the novel’s characters start plotting their way into the “casual vacancy” on the parish council- a position that would tip the scales of a long estate war between Pagford and rival town, Yarvil. The townspeople of Pagford are divided, and as the candidates become known, the drama starts to unfold.
There are many characters in this novel, each with their own agendas and secrets. There’s the Fairbrother family, who can’t help but watch the town murmur with plots to fill Barry’s previous position. There’s the Mollison family, full of Pagford pride and politics. The Price and Wall families both possess hot-tempered fathers, patronizing mothers, and angsty teenage sons. Also, Drs. Jawanda and their divided family, the reluctant couple “Gavin-and-Kay”, and the underprivileged Weedon family. Rowling is a very detail-oriented writer, and the more you read into the story, the more these characters tie together. However at first, I found that in having so many characters, so many points of view, and so many different sub-plots quite confusing that I actually had to take notes!
Once everything starts to unfold (no spoilers here), I found myself quickly absorbed into the novel. Although it is completely different style from Rowling’s “Harry Potter” novels- “Casual Vacancy” contains more mature content and language- the author’s ability to take her readers to a fantasy setting, and create a world that is believable with multifaceted characters is amazing. Just when you’ve decided you didn’t like a character, Rowling shows another side to them and changes your opinion- or, in a few cases, enforces it. So without revealing the ending, I would say if you like scandal, gossip, or small town politics, give this book a read.