The Casual Vacancy

the-casual-vacancy-waterstonesAbout the author

I suppose there is no need for me to introduce J.K. Rowling, but if you don’t know who she is maybe Harry Potter will sound more familiar? She is indeed the author of the 7 famous Harry Potter books, which were turned into 8 blockbuster movies. Thanks to her breakthrough with Harry Potter, she has an OBE for services to children’s literature and is J.K. Rowling is the recipient of numerous awards. When the idea for Harry Potter came to J.K. Rowling, she was unemployed at the time and the success of the novels successfully propelled her out of despair and into fame.

After the Harry Potter novels were finished and the last of the films had been released, she announced that she would be writing a “novel for adults”. Let me reassure you straight away, we are not talking about more 50 Shades of Grey! She simply meant that it wouldn’t be a children’s novel as Harry Potter was meant to be. Which brings me perfectly to the novel, The Casual Vacancy.

About the novel

Though at first a bit dubious about anything other than Harry Potter (as I am a huge fan), curiosity nevertheless got the better of me and I decided to buy the book. Faced with a 9 hour train ride to Brittany over Christmas, I took it with me and started to get in the thick of it.

At first it took me a while to get into it, I was a bit disappointed by the novel thinking that although it was definitely not bad (nothing can top 50 Shades in terms of bad writing), it certainly wasn’t as exciting as Harry Potter. The writing was good, the characters intriguing, but nonetheless there were too many of them and it wasn’t easy to keep track of them all and how they were related.

However, about 200 pages into the book something happens that manages to get you hooked. After that you read on, eager to find out what happens next in the little village of Pagford, and what the ramifications of one small computer message will be. Finally you understand how all the characters are linked and it is fascinating! You watch it all unfold before you: families falling appart, petty rivalries between neighbours, village gossip and silly teenage behaviour.

In fact, the novel in itself turns out to be quite dark and almost depressing. I’m surprised to see how accurately Rowling seems to have described the sad and almost menial lives of the people of Pagford, which one could easily imagine to be an existing poorer city on the outskirts of London. Domestic violence, self-mutilation, drugs rape and death, Rowling covers them all in a very realistic manner. We feel pity and empathy for the saddest and worst characters, and end up being accepting of all the terrible things that happen as a result.

In a way, she could very well have been describing the genuine lives of real people whose names she had altered and that’s partly what creates the intrigue. What if these were your neighbours, if Pagford was your village? It makes it easier to relate to the characters, and it makes the realities more shocking.

She also reveals human fallacies, the very real ones that everyone is capable of but most are ashamed to admit and even think. Is it possible to be in love with someone else’s husband? Is it possible to be unhappy in your mariage? All of these things are possible but few people will admit to them. In her novel, Rowling uncovers the inner thoughts of people experiencing all of the above, which makes for a feeling of brutal honesty.

All in all I would call the novel a success. Rowling has proved that she is a capable author who can adapt her style and is able to target more than one audience. I’d be interested to see what else she endeavours and read another of her “adult novels” if she writes one. I recommend you try the book no matter what your motives, and let me know what you think!

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