My Thoughts On The Casual Vacancy

I must agree with the reviewer who said of J K Rowling’s new book: Harry Potter’s mom has a potty mouth. I say this not to scare any reader off, but as a warning. To get the most of reading Rowling’s new book one should not go in thinking that it is another Harry Potter book. It is not. It’s as far as one could get from the Potter universe. This also is not a bad thing. It is good, for this book proves that Rowling is a good writer, dare I say great. She does not need Potter as a crutch to tell a good story. I just hope that we don’t have to wait another five years for another Rowling yarn.

When Barry Fairbrother dies unexpectedly in his early forties, the little 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 façade 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. 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?

The plot focuses on class and other social tensions surrounding “the Fields,” a public housing project on the outskirts of the suburban middle class community of Pagford Parish following the unexpected death of parish councilor Barry Fairbrother. The publisher says that The Casual Vacancy is “blackly comic, thought-provoking, and constantly surprising.”

This book is domestic, British, and political. Not typical things I look for in a novel. I read a lot of theology and I am in college, so I usually go for novels that are fun, exciting, and escapist. I read fiction for fun not to learn or get some social commentary. So, if Rowling weren’t the author of this book I wouldn’t have picked it up. Once again, this is not to warn anyone off. The writing is very good and the deep psychologically astute characterizations are more than enough to read this 500-page tome.

Author Lev Grossman writing for Time, “I had come under the spell of a great novel…. A big, ambitious, brilliant, profane, funny, deeply upsetting and magnificently eloquent novel of contemporary England, rich with literary intelligence…. This is a deeply moving book by somebody who understands both human beings and novels very, very deeply.”

The Daily Beast says of the novel, “An insanely compelling page-turner…The Casual Vacancy is a comedy, but a comedy of the blackest sort, etched with acid and drawn with pitch…. Rowling proves ever dexterous at launching multiple plot lines that roar along simultaneously, never entangling them except when she means to. She did not become the world’s bestselling author by accident. She knows down in her bones how to make you keep turning the pages.”

While this is not Harry Potter and I probably will not re-read this book it is very well written by a novelist at the top of her game sharing with the Potter books a masterful plot and good characters. There is plenty of foul language, drug use, sex among other things, yet not uncharacteristically so. Rowling is telling a realistic story set in the real world. No magic. Rowling tells the truth. Rowling powerfully comments on our world—the good, bad, and ugly—while telling a good story. Rowling does not censure herself or pretty up things. She tells it like it is, thus giving us a powerful piece of true literature.

Until next time, keep reading.

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1 Comment

  1. Another good review… I shall at that to the current score of 3 good 2 bad.

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