‘The Casual Vacancy” by J.K. Rowling

Well, well, well….where DO I begin? If you’ve read this blog before you’ve heard me say I’ve been accused of never reading a book I didn’t like. Can I tell you folks——I’ve just found one!!

The Casual Vacancy, J. K. Rowling’s first novel for adults, takes place in the small English town of Pagford where a young council member has died suddenly leaving what is known as a casual vacancy. The rest of the story follows the antics of various townspeople as a replacement is sought and eventually elected.
Reading this book was much like driving past an automobile accident…you don’t want to look but you have to. The characters are really unlikable people doing horrible things—but I couldn’t look away! The only character who may have had some redeeming qualities was the man who died! And since he dies at the very beginning of the book one can’t even be sure about him! 

Rowling does a great job intertwining the plotting and scheming of the various characters so that one behavior directly affects another behavior that directly affects another and so on. But none of the behaviors serve any good purpose.

The real trouble between council members stems from a disagreement over an area that lies between Pagford and Yarvil- a larger city a few miles away. After World War II Yarvil began building affordable housing that eventually spilled into and filled all of the city’s available land between themselves and Pagford. The construction was cheap and the community had multiple problems and soon Yarvil was delegating certain responsibilities to Pagford-the greatest being that a large section of the poorest housing known as the Fields would send their children to the school in Pagford. In a classic tale of “haves” versus “have nots” some on Pagford’s council were determined to rid themselves of  this burden but had never had the votes needed to accomplish the task. Now with the sudden death of Barry Fairbrother (who had been born in the Fields and was a strong proponent of Pagford support) the anti-Fields group saw their chance to tip the scales in their favor—if, of course, the “right” Pagfordian was  elected to the casual vacancy. And so the plots and schemes and undermining and character destruction begins!

You’ll meet a morbidly obese, self important gourmet deli owner and his snobbish wife. They have a son, an attorney, who follows in his father’s attitudinal footsteps. He is married to a woman who wants to be her teenage daughter. There’s also a husband who physically, emotionally, and verbally abuses his wife and two sons. The teenage son seeks revenge at one point which begins a tragic chain of events. You’ll also meet a heroin addicted mother of a teenage daughter and a two year old son. The little boy has just recently been returned to the household and the teenager pretty much runs wild. One of the characters is a social worker who briefly gets involved with this family even as her own situation is deteriorating. She moved to Pagford to live with her boyfriend but he is losing interest fast and her very unhappy teenage daughter is looking for revenge of her own.

Are you getting the picture here? There are many more characters, each with his or her own failings and part to play in the ultimate disaster the community becomes. It’s almost as though Rowling made a list of all reprehensible human behaviors and characteristics and then created a character that displayed each one. I just got so tired of reading about these misfits and their despicable behaviors. I know…shame on me for continuing to read the book, but I was sure something good was going to come of this mess. Spoiler alert—-it doesn’t!! Believe it or not the story actually gets worse at the end!

I absolutely believe that people like these characters really do live among us—we’ve all met them. But honestly…all at once? All in one town? All in one book? Spare me.

~Judy

Hip Hot & Happening in the Bookshop – J.K. Rowling’s “The Casual Vacancy”

On September 27th J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter fame) is releasing her first book written for adults, The Casual Vacancy

This much anticipated novel is about a small town in England called Pagford.  When one of the towns inhabitants dies suddenly the town is left in shock. 

Even though the town is the English idyll to its visitors, behind the pretty facade is a town a war.  And the death of Barry Fairweather does nothing to calm things.  With Barry’s passing his seat on the town council is vacant and the election to fill the seat leads them to the biggest war the town has ever seen.

In this darkly comic, thought provoking and surprising novel J.K. Rowling ventures away from her Hogwarts roots.