Review – The Casual Vacancy
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  • October 10, 2012
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The Casual Vacancy = Mind Blowing.

There is a quote in J.K. Rowling’s newly released book, The Casual Vacancy, that sums up the tone of this novel perfectly.

“The mistake ninety-nine percent of humanity made, as far as Fats could see, were being ashamed of what they were, lying about it, trying to be somebody else. Honesty was Fats’ currency, his weapon and defense. It frightened people when you were honest; it shocked them. Other people, Fats had discovered, were mired in embarrassment and pretense, terrified that their truths might leak out, but Fats was attracted by rawness, by everything that was ugly but honest, by the dirty things about which the likes of his father felt humiliated and disgusted. Fats thought a lot about messiahs and pariahs; about men labeled mad or criminal; noble misfits shunned by the sleepy masses.”


Rowling’s departure from the world of children’s fantasy takes us in an entirely different direction – truth. This book focuses on the truths that exist between people in a community and, more importantly, the lies that tear them apart. 

The book starts with the death of Barry Fairbrother, a parish council member and much loved bloke about town. This leaves behind a casual vacancy – a much-sought-after spot on the town council.  Barry’s death shakes the town of Pagford to the foundation from the council to teens on his rowing team. Everyone has been affected. After his death Barry becomes the most omnipresent, oft-spoken-of-but-never-seen dead character since Rebecca haunted Manderley. Barry is a cause and a catalyst for everything that happens in this book.

This book has been much maligned in reviews. I have read a number that decry it as boring, laughable, and a waste of time. This made the defiant part of me rise up – everyone hates it, so I have to like it. Strike that, I have to love it. For the record it’s not a waste of time. Not one second. I have spent the last week reading it and I feel nothing but pleasure, and aching, gut-wrenching sorrow in tandem. To call this novel boring is a slap in Rowling’s face. This novel is heartfelt and exciting. At first it’s a heavily character driven romp, but then the story sweeps you off your feet and you just can’t look away. Rowling touches on so many factors of the human condition within the pages. Emotions range from sorrow to laughter, passion to pain, and all of the spectra in between.

I’m not sure what book the readers who claim it was boring were reading but, trust me, this wasn’t it.

My theory is that the people who gave up are the fans that she acquired who are not readers – those who read the books because they are “the in-thing” so they could talk about it with their peers. Their contempt for this book makes me think they are jaded, that they feel duped for buying this (or any) book when “It’s not Harry Potter!”.

It’s really their loss for giving up. They’re missing an otherwise perfect literary experience.

On that note, if you go in expecting Harry Potter you will be disappointed. I never thought I would say this but forget Harry Potter… Especially while reading this book. Harry Potter ended five years ago and since then Rowling has gifted us with this unexpectedly wonderful book. To bemoan the fact that it’s not another book set in that world is a second slap in her face. Rowling is a writer. Was she not supposed to write another book after finishing THE series of her career? Absolutely not. If anything she has a hell of a lot to prove… and she proves her chops in The Casual Vacancy. Where else would you find jealousy, illegal drug usage, prostitution, teenage sex, LGBT relationships, parental abuse, neglect, cutting, hope, pedophilia, boy band obsession, social politics, power struggles, rape, fear, betrayal, unrequited love, (and more f-bombs than Sam Jackson drops in the average movie)… all together told in a beautiful language that makes the reader laugh, smile, and cry at unexpected turns? Sometimes within sentences of one another.

Sound boring? It’s not. Like I said, I don’t know what book they were reading. I was completely riveted. And I sobbed at the end. Another truth.

Sadly, there is no mention of magic, or Hogwarts, or wizards, witches, and house elves. It didn’t need that – it has it’s own unique brand of magic. It doesn’t mention Muggles either, but it does delve heavily into their lives and the way they interact with one another.

I am very impressed by Rowling’s first adult book. It’s literary, it’s rough, it’s blisteringly poignant. I will miss every single character.

5 out of 5 stars. Brava, Rowling. You have made magic out of the extraordinary ordinary. Brava.

– BP


Moirae(thefates) book reviews

2012-10-10 18:38:58 Reply

I am SO glad a blogger I trust reviewed this. I have it on hold at the library and from all of the negative reviews it’s made me leery about the book.
She has said from day one that it is not HP. So, I’m not sure why ppl seem to be surprised by that. Anyway, great review glad to see a positive review of it.