THE CASUAL VACANCY by J.K. Rowling
When Barry Fairweather dies unexpectedly in his early forties, the little 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 façade 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 town’s 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 not a story about a magical place, or an exciting adventure full of action. It is one that is firmly centred around the book’s characters.
The death of Barry Fairbrother, a councillor in a small town, unravels the lives of people that he came into contact with. The impact of Barry’s death on individuals within the community that he was part of is told in a ‘warts and all’ style.
The story cleverly shows how everyday lives within a community can be so intertwined, without the people realising. Everyone has their place, their routine, their status, and everyone has their own spin on things around them. Normally, these opinions and beliefs lie hidden under the surface of happy daily life.
Barry’s death opens this can of worms. Family turmoil, personal demons, lingering prejudices and different opinions bubble to the surface, as townsfolk scramble to win his vacated seat on the council. To succeed, would provide them with the power to set things in place that are in line with their own preferences.
There were definitely plenty of cringe-worthy moments in this book, some of which I didn’t really enjoy. But, the fact that they triggered such a strong reaction from me is evidence of clever writing. The foul language was plentiful, and although it was there to show the essence of the seedier characters, I felt there was too much (maybe I’m getting old and prudish!).
In my opinion, the last fifty pages in the book were the best, but I have to add that all the pages before were completely necessary to build the overall story. I’m trying hard not to include any spoilers in this review. I can say that I was engrossed in the story, it’s characters and messages … and I was truly affected by the outcome.
J.K. has swung this book to be as opposite to Harry Potter as she could. Not everyone will like it, but I’m confident that most readers will.