Like with the Harry Potter series, I read The Casual Vacancy over the course of a few days. That’s where the similarities end. And that’s fine with me. I didn’t pick up the first adult book written by J.K. Rowling and expect it to be anything like her kids’ books. What I hoped for was a riveting read – and I got that in spades.
Set in the picturesque English village of Pagford, The Casual Vacancy follows the lives of various villagers: from self-important council members to dissatisfied housewives, troubled teens, and a teen girl from the local housing estate who for me is the heart and soul of this story.
It is not a spoiler to tell you that the story begins with a death. We know Barry Fairbrother for exactly two and a bit pages and then he dies. His death leaves a ‘casual vacancy’ on the Parish Council – an entity made up of two warring factions. The plot revolves around the filling of this seat and the impact of the sudden death of a man on the lives of many.
I purposely steered clear of reviews and commentary before reading this book as I wanted to be surprised. I was surprised. The publishers have marketed this as a ‘black comedy’, but I can’t say I laughed. Instead, I admired the characters Rowling has created. We all know people like the ones in this book. Most of them aren’t very likeable but that didn’t stop me admiring the way Rowling constructed them. The point-of-views of the various teenagers in this plot were spot on – from the teen pining after his ideal girl and despising his father; to another who doesn’t care who he hurts in his quest to be ‘authentic’; to a teenage girl who is the victim of a bully; and another teenage girl who is old beyond her years having to deal with a mother on and off drugs.
At first it is a little hard to keep up with all the different characters and sort out their various connections to each other, but then after a while it all slots into place. Some book critics have panned The Casual Vacancy for being an ‘attack on the middle-class’. Others have called it ‘bleak’. Yes, it is bleak – but that didn’t stop me from enjoying this story.
My advice is to read this book and make up your own mind. For me, this book with its troublesome characters and dark themes was a worthwhile read. I can’t wait to read what Rowling writes next.
Have you read The Casual Vacancy? What did you think?
I read yesterday that J K Rowling’s first book for adults will be released worldwide in September (see the article here). Entitled The Casual Vacancy it sounds like it will be a small English town/quirky characters/mystery story. And not one wand or flying broomstick will be seen.
I have to say that I want to read it. It’s J K Rowling. I mean it will be brilliant, won’t it? (With even the e-book priced over 20 USD, I think the publisher is hoping we’ll all pay for the privilege.)
But somehow I feel a little bit sad – it seems there is life after Harry.Maybe Harry Potter really is over. Done and dusted. No need to ever go back and continue the story. As J K Rowling wrote in the final chapter, Harry, Ginny, Ron and Hermione had kids and lived happily ever after.
Or did they? What became of them in middle-age? Did Harry remain a selfless hero once he was working the daily grind? Did Hermione manage to stay perky after a couple of kids and years and years of being married to the affable Ron Weasley?
If J K Rowling wants to write an adult book, why not make it an adult Harry Potter story? She can always use one of these scenarios:
Scenario One – Harry Potter and the Affair to Remember: Harry is 40, balding, slightly overweight and suffering a mid-life crisis. He has a feeling that the best years of his life were lived in his adolescence. He has now become the bore at dinner parties who people avoid. His wife Ginny is rudely dismissive: ‘Shut-up Harry, no one wants to hear about your duel with Voldemort. It happened more than 20 years ago. We all know the story.’ In fact, Ginny has recently dyed her ginger hair blonde and seems to always be at levitating yoga class. The class with the handsome male instructor who she swears is gay. Maybe that’s why Harry felt the need to go out and buy a muggles sports car. At least he childhood friend Hermione always listens to him. She feels similarly frustrated in her marriage. Ron is just not exciting any more. And he lacks ambition. He hasn’t been promoted in ten years and he never helps with the children. At least they have each other …
Scenario Two – Harry Potter and the Dead Wizard’s Society: Harry gets a job at Hogworts as the Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher. He finds that Hogwarts isn’t the place it used to be when he was a teenager. Kids these days have no respect for their teachers. The girls spend most of the class using magic to give themselves tattoos or to send the boys magical nude photos of themselves. While the boys openly mock him with taunts of ‘Voldemort’s bitch’ and ‘Scarface.’ They use their wands to give each other wedgies and to see who can create the foulest stench. He’d just love to hex the whole lot of the buggers. Instead, he is determined to educate them. He beat the most powerful, evil wizard ever known. Surely he can help a few pimple-faced teens grow some brain cells?
Scenario Three – Harry Potter and the License to Kill: Harry seems to have an ordinary life – on the surface. But what people don’t know is that he is MI5’s secret weapon. Yes, the muggles have discovered that witches and wizards walk amongst them. And of course they only recruit the best of the best. The name’s Potter, Harry Potter. And he’ll have his Butterbeer without the shaken and stirred part – thank you ever so kindly.
J K please feel free to use any of these scenarios – just bring the magic back!