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Monday, May 20, 2024

A vacancy that is anything but casual

In J.K. Rowling’s first adult novel, the small, fictional town of Pagford faces conflict when Barry Fairbrother dies, leaving an empty seat on the parish council. A variety of social issues come to light as the election for Fairbrother’s council seat approaches.

I admit to holding out on reading this book.  I had a deep fear that my love for all things “Harry Potter” would be a strong bias when it came to my opinion of this book. That said, “The Casual Vacancy” could not be more distinctly different from the “Harry Potter” novels.

This novel is obviously a story meant for adults.  Prostitution, drug use and explicit language are all components of the book, and while “Harry Potter” certainly dealt with some dark themes as well, “The Casual Vacancy” lacks the whimsical tone that defines the “Harry Potter” novels as children’s books.

A major strength for this novel is the characters, and there are many of them.  They have well-defined personalities and their faults and weaknesses are unapologetically shown by Rowling, making them realistic, sympathetic and at times, completely unlikeable.

Rowling allows the relationships, emotions and desires of the characters to display the problems within the town.  Tense relationships between family members and issues with class structure appear to be common in Pagford. 

At times, this book was a bit slow-paced, and this was partly due to the story jumping from character to character.  However, the character development leaves the reader fulfilled at the end of the book.  Also, the dark tone of the novel keeps the story intriguing, and that tone remains for the entirety of the story. Just as how the story begins with Barry Fairbrother’s death by aneurysm, the book ends with deaths that come about due to even more tragic circumstances.

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