The Casual Vacancy was J.K. Rowling’s first novel written for adults, published after the Harry Potter series was completed. I’ve been wanting to read an adult novel of hers for a while, so when my partner gifted me this book I knew it was time to tick it off the list.
It is completely different to Harry Potter, except for the British-ness of course, and the presence of gossiping neighbours (reminiscent of the Dursleys). The story follows multiple characters living in the small English town of Pagford (a fictitious place), and the ramifications of the unexpected death of local council member, Barry Fairbrother. This has left a ‘casual vacancy’ in the Pagford council, and the drama and conflicts ensue as the war for the council seat begins.
It did take me a while to get into this book – almost a third of the way actually. It didn’t help that at the start I was reading it in small amounts at a time. But I also found the number of different point of views made it difficult to invest in the characters. It was also not the kind of book I would usually read – very realistic, gritty. It deals with issues like depression, drug use, affairs, rape, and small town politics. All the characters are flawed and have their secrets, and as the book progresses these start to come out.
Once I became familiar with each character and how they were linked (most are interconnected in some way, and span three generations), this is when I became hooked, and invested in the journey of each of them. It was the second half of the book where I really couldn’t put it down, mostly because the juicy secrets started to come out. It took some persistence but I’m glad I got there. I felt, after a carefully crafted build up of events, a sense of resolution for each character. Let’s be clear, I wouldn’t say this book has a happy ending. But while there’s a sad ending for some, for others there is redemption, and hope for the future.
While I felt the Harry Potter series was mostly a story of black and white, good and evil (excepting Snape’s character, of course), The Casual Vacancy is very much a book about shades of grey. And while I found the start slow, soon enough the conflicts of the various characters had me invested, and I found the pacing really kicked off in the latter half of the novel.
I wouldn’t recommend this for fans of the Harry Potter series, because the two are so different they can’t be compared. But if you like small town drama and politics, and flawed characters with juicy secrets, this might be for you.