The Casual Vacancy – J.K. Rowling
Little, Brown, 2012
There has been an inevitable hype around the release of The Casual Vacancy. Being Rowling’s first post-Potter novel and also her first work officially for adults, there were bound to be high expectations. As one of the generation who grew up hoping to go to Hogwarts, I obviously had to read this. I knew it would be very different to her other work, but I confess, I wasn’t prepared for quite how different it would be.
Pagford is a picturesque little English town, where the pace of life is slow and people are friendly. When popular councillor Barry Fairbrother unexpectedly dies, however, and the news ripples outward, Pagford’s pretty surface begins to crack, revealing the deep divisions that lie beneath. With Barry’s empty seat on the Parish Council opened to an election and his campaign of passionate advocacy left incomplete, a series of ugly revelations are about to shake the town to its foundations.
Firstly: if you have been thinking of letting your kids read this, stop right there. Every example of unpleasant human behaviour, from foul language and entrenched sexism to domestic abuse and rape, is laid out over the course of the book. There is no one happy in this town – or if there are happy people, Rowling isn’t interested in them. It is as if she is so determined to prove she can write grown-up books that she has abandoned all the mad whimsy and warmth that made me like Harry Potter in favour of bleak, gritty realism. She writes it very well, imbuing even the most damaged characters with haunting poignancy, and she doesn’t pretend that there are glib easy answers. Her characters are complex and interesting. I just didn’t like any of them, and that pretty much sums up how I felt about the entire book. J.K. Rowling is a very talented writer, but if she publishes any more adult fiction, I’ll be more wary of reading it.