The Casual Vacancy: A Review

When we talk about JK Rowling, the obvious connection that we make is with the Harry Potter series, and that’s exactly what happened. The readers were awaiting the book release since the day the news about Rowling writing a second novel hit the newsstands.

I have just finished reading the novel and having been a diehard Harry Potter fan I did end up making constant comparisons between the two books.

The contents of the Harry Potter series were often guarded with life till the day the book was published. It made sense with the Harry Potter saga because the world (be it a child or an adult) wanted to know what had happened to “the boy who lived” and “he-who-must-not-be-named”, and his minions.

However this kind of promotion wasn’t necessary in the case of “The Casual Vacancy”, a novel about a parish council election in the small town of Pagford. It is a traditional and an unadventurous English novel. Set in the small town of Pagford, the book revolves around multiple characters.

In “The Casual Vacancy” the characters get up to things which the young wizards would never dream of doing; drugs, swearing, and casual sex. It’s an adult novel after all.

The plot is set in motion when the protagonist Barry Fairbrother falls dead in the parking lot of the golf club, leaving a “casual vacancy” on the parish council. The dark forces in this novel are led by a Howard Mollison who seeks a chance to a replace the council with one of his minions.

“The Casual Vacancy” confirms that Rowling does not lose her gift of writing by stepping outside her usual realm of fantasy and Harry Potter. Yet the novel does not have a tightly knit plot. As a reader I did feel that some characters seem to arise out of nowhere.

The other focus of the book is the traumatic life of Krystal Weedon.

Krystal lives with her mother, a drug addict, and brother, in The Fields. Mollison and Fairbrother were in constant opposition due to this council estate “The Fields”. Mollison wanted the Field to be a part of the nearby city Yarvil and not Pagford as the Field was a home for drug addicts like Krystal’s mom. He wanted the town of Pagford to remain free from such addicts.

Rowling’s movement from the genre of children’s literature to adult literature arose from being ready to “change the genre”.  When she was questioned in an interview about how the young Harry Potter fans would receive this experiment of hers, Rowling responded saying, “There is no part of me that feels that I represented myself as your children’s babysitter or their teacher. I was always, I think, completely honest. I’m a writer, and I will write what I want to write.”

And yes she is right. Though “The Casual Vacancy” is no masterpiece, but it’s not bad.

The fans may find it a bit sour, as it lacks the charm that was abundant in the Harry Potter books, but one should read it just to see that Rowling can in fact venture out of the world of fantasy.

Shraddha Jandial

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