Sunday, 30 September 2012

The Casual Vacancy - J.K. Rowling

The Casual VacancyThe Casual Vacancy - J.K. Rowling
Grade: Adult
Rating: 5/5 stars

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 fa├žade 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?

The Casual Vacancy is J.K. Rowling’s first novel for adults (Description from Goodreads)

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I don’t know if I was more excited or nervous about reading ‘The Casual Vacancy’ on release. We all know J.K. Rowling is a talented author, so I wasn’t worried that the book would be badly written; but I couldn’t help wondering what if I’d got my hopes up a bit too much and I was expecting more than I’d get. My fears were misplaced. How could I have doubted that the story Ms. Rowling had given us wouldn’t captivate me in every way? ‘The Casual Vacancy’ is a powerfully written account of small-town political and social life, where the reader gets lost in the broken and defeated lives of the Pagford townsfolk. I loved it.

To the outside eye, Pagford doesn’t look like much. A small town, where everyone knows their neighbours and where gossip spreads like wildfire. But this little English town holds the potential for disaster. When well loved member of the community, Barry Fairbrother, dies the town goes into a bit of a meltdown. Barry Fairbrother had an impact on every bit of town life while he was alive; and also in his death. Pagford is left with the painful task of finding a Barry-Replacement for his seat on the town council. But with the town divided by their views of district lines, drug help centres and just who has the right to run for council; Barry is a hard act to follow.

We are given a well-rounded view of everything that goes on within Pagford. Every family has a secret, troubled existence. No-one in the community escapes from the brutal lives they’ve been placed in and we see these lives in great detail throughout the whole book. Unemployed drug addicts struggling to keep control of their children; the well-off store owners who think they’re better than the rest of the town, but aren’t hiding their snobbery very well; mothers who uproot their London lives to follow their ‘heart’ to ‘heartbreak’; children who fear when the next punch will come from Daddy. Every little life is ruled by potential destruction and yet you can’t look away. Like a train wreck I kept watching...reading; wanting to know what disaster might pop up next. The problems escalate thanks to the search for Barry's replacement. The drama, hatred and constant fighting for this vacant position left me gobsmacked and slightly fearful of small-town life. Politics, they can drive any family mental.

The book was darker than I was expecting, and I’d already read warnings that it was a very adult book. It’s not so much that the book was descriptive – although it did scrape away the layers of everyday life without guarding you from truth – but I just wasn’t expecting every character to be so broken and destructive. I kept thinking there had to be someone in the town that had redeeming qualities, but they were all a bit beaten before the book even started. I think the least broken character was Kay Bawden (she also happened to be my favourite Pagfordian) But even Kay had her issues and they weren’t all light and fluffy. The book should definitely come with a warning: Be careful of the dark life displayed within.

I really enjoyed the way the book was written. Despite having an opening section that was a little hard to follow. We’re thrown into the story and are greeted with over 20 characters that we will get the chance to follow and explore for the rest of the book. The problem was trying to remember which characters belonged to each family and what side of the council they were on. With only 50 pages in the opening section, it was a bit tricky keeping track of everyone. But you catch on after a while and you get used to the way all the characters interact with each other. It was the fact that we have so many characters that made the story a lot more interesting. I loved the switching perspectives. J.K. Rowling certainly has a way with words. I really enjoyed the way she wouldn’t just focus on one person within the one scene. If there were multiple main characters in the same scene (and there often were) you were constantly switching your focus from character to character – sometimes even mid-sentence. There was no clue who you were going to get next, but it definitely keeps you on your toes. It also helped with that well-rounded feeling, because you were able to see the different emotions and opinions from totally different characters that were in the same situations.

The harsh realities of the characters continue from start to finish. You couldn't escape being affected by the stories within. ‘The Casual Vacancy’ is a dark and twisted story that displays so much emotion and drama. I loved every moment. J.K. Rowling is a master of words and worlds.

5/5 stars

(Originally posted on Goodreads)


  1. ooooh,Kim, your review is PERFECT.

    "The book should definitely come with a warning: Be careful of the dark life displayed within."

    SO INTRIGUED. I mean, it's The Rowling. I'm dying to read this book, but I'm unsure, and scared, and... still. I've really only read the intro so far, and YES. ALL THOSE CHARACTERS. But still I think this can only be amazing, and your review is just... Perfect. So perfect ♥

    1. I was nervous starting the book too. I was almost convinced I wouldn't like it because I'd heard strange things about the book (even though it hadn't been released yet) But I'm really glad I got it on release and I'm SO happy it was better than I was expecting (and I was expecting greatness already)

      I can't wait to hear what you think of it. <3


  2. I love your review! I'm glad it wasn't just me that couldn't keep anyone straight in the first half of the novel :)

    While I'm not a huge fan of switching POVs, it really was important for this book to have them. When so much of the book is about the reactions of individuals to Barry's death and its consequences, it really needed to be able to get inside everyone's head to really come to grips with the subject.

    I thought she did a great job with so much detail, it's amazing to realise how much thought and effort has gone into keeping everyone together and down their character plot path.

    1. I don't think anyone will be able to remember where all the characters go in the first half. Every time the narration switched to a new character, I was all: "Who do you belong to!?"

      But you're absolutely right. It was necessary to switch so often. You needed to be able to see the progression of all the characters while dealing with Barry's death.