The Casual Vacancy
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 facade 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.
I approached Rowling’s first adult novel with some trepidation, as I am a huge fan of hers – not only for her Harry Potter series, but also her politics and charity work, and I was wary of being let down. While the world of Hogwarts was superbly created and plotted, there have also been criticisms about her writing style. How would this translate to a novel aimed at adult readers?
Luckily J.K. didn’t let me down! The strengths evident in her Harry Potter novels are to be found here too, with a well-plotted story spanning a large cast of characters. I had no issues with her narrative voice. Rowling may not have the world’s most elegant writing style, and there was nothing that blew me away, or made me stop and go ‘wow’, but the story was so gripping, and the characters so well developed that this isn’t an issue at all.
When you see what the novel is about you may object to my description of ‘gripping’ but bear with me. Yes, this is about a parish council by-election, which may not instantly sound like a fascinating topic, but as characters lives intertwine, and stories interweave, there is love, sex, death, betrayal, and plenty of bickering.
The council is split over the issue of what to do with ‘The Fields’, an area of social housing, and the drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre. Here Rowling’s politics probably shines through, as one side certainly seems more mean-spirited than the other, although I am perfectly willing to accept that my own opinions may well be colouring my reading!
For a novel that had such a huge amount to live up to, The Casual Vacancy is a well written and exciting story about an ordinary place, and it’s ordinary people that left me feeling bereft when I turned the last page.