It’s been, quite literally, years since J K Rowling presented a new book in which avid readers could devour and discuss, and while her latest offering may not include an awesome boy wizard who defeats the greatest dark lord of all time (spoiler alert), it does contain the same English charm and wit that we’ve come to expect from her.
So. The Casual Vacancy. What is it about? What was right? And is it even a little bit comparable to the famous Harry Potter? Let’s discuss below, shall we?
The Casual Vacancy follows the lives of different families living in Pagford, a small parish English town. It begins just after the death of a much-loved parish councillor, Barry Fairbrother, who was a keen advocate and supporter for The Fields, a housing estate on the outskirts of town.
After Barry passes away, his rivals on the council, Howard and Shirley Mollison, hope to take over the ‘casual vacancy’ so they can get rid of The Fields for good, by enlisting their son Miles.
While this doesn’t sound like much, this is just the top of the iceberg, and as the story unfolds we learn more about each of the characters; teenagers who develop crushes; wives who feel unloved; children who are trapped into an awful reality; and relationships between family members, friends and lovers.
What Is Great About It:
J K Rowling knows how to write. While Harry Potter stole our hearts with its beautiful storyline, it wouldn’t still be such a huge success if it was written badly. The Casual Vacancy is no different; her distinctive style of third person perspective, which still manages to draw the reader in, is just as free-flowing as in Harry Potter.
The storyline. Since many adults read Harry Potter, we tend to forget that it was targeted specifically for children. So even though Harry has a lot on his plate (defeating Voldemort, getting Ginny to like him, not getting his friends killed etc), we don’t deal with anything too gritty or real. Rowling does not shy away from this at all, in fact, it’s darker than most adult novels I’ve read. There’s copious amounts of swearing (dropping of the C bomb and so forth), and we deal with domestic abuse, rape, illicit drug use and pedophilia.
I thought this was really interesting, because it provided a different perspective to what I would usually think and feel about these topics. Furthermore, even though they are so bleak, I wasn’t brought down by what I was reading.
The characters. Howard Mollison is a particular stand-out favourite because I could imagine him so vividly; an obese, pompous English man who believes he is the cream of the crop in every regard. And while there were character aspects that were obviously exaggerated, overall the townsfolk of Pagford seemed to be quite accurate portrayals of people who live in a small country town.
Does It Compare To Harry Potter?
Of course it doesn’t. Let’s be honest, most books don’t. But this isn’t a bad thing. Rowling didn’t attempt to write a spin-off of Harry Potter, or attempt a new series within the same fantasy genre, but rather she chose to spread her wings as a writer and create an entirely new book. I thought The Casual Vacancy was great. While it didn’t absorb me as much as Harry Potter has in the past, I was still eager to pick it up at the end of a long day and keep reading, and I developed attachments to the characters in a way that I believe is possible in only really great stories.
Have you read The Casual Vacancy? What did you think? Were you surprised? Disappointed? Let me know!