The Casual Vacancy

JK Rowling
503 pages
27 September 2012

What do we do about Krystal Weedon?
JK Rowling

As soon as I heard that Rowling was going to be writing another book, I was so excited. I didn’t need to know any more about the book to know I would be counting down until it came. I never once thought it would be like Harry Potter, but I did know that she was talented enough to write a great story. I pre-ordered and then had to wait for it to arrive at my place. My first thought when it arrived was, “Oh my, that is a bigger book than I was expecting!” It is massive, at just over 500 pages, it reminds me of when I first saw The Goblet of Fire.

The book is good, whatever else you may hear about it. It is well written, and is one of the few books that I actually had to look up words I didn’t know. But it is an adult novel, and about a small town, things that I would normally not pick up. This is a book that if it had been written by anyone else, or if I had not known it was Rowling, I would not have read. But because it was Rowling, I knew I had to push through to the end. And the ending, for me, makes up for any of the other flaws I feel this book has. But just remember, to come into this book thinking anything connected to Harry Potter would be a complete mistake.

The Casual Vacancy is a tough book to really talk about the plot. But the basic rundown is that everything happens in a small, made-up town called Pagford, and how it deals with the death of one of the local councilmen, Barry Fairbrother. Pagford council had been in a nasty dispute about trying to foist off the low income housing onto the next town, and close down the local addiction clinic. Fairbrother had been an amazing man, who raised himself out of The Fields (the low income housing) and is a very philanthropic person. But with his passing, The Fields lost their biggest supporter, and the fight over The Fields, the clinic, and the open seat are on, with both sides and more joining the fray.

What makes the book so dense though is that Rowling has a large cast of characters, all with their own flaws and agendas. Each chapter follows different people and you really experience small town life. Over the book, you not only see all the things that happen behind closed doors, but also inside their characters minds. In the first half of the book, you get to know who everyone is, where they stand, and how they are connected to everyone. At that point, the story sort of drags a little. It is just a bit too close to real life, and for me, not what I settle down with at the end a hard day to relax.

The best part of the book is the last 100 pages. These read really fast, and you just have to know what happens. I loved the ending, it wasn’t sugar coated, but there was a sort of justice for everyone. It was the sort of ending that I had hoped for in the last Harry Potter novel. There is closure to the story, but enough room left that everyone can interpret and imagine things their own way.

From the large cast of characters that you get to know there are two main groups, the adults and the teenagers. I naturally felt more drawn towards the teenagers, and I think they are the most realistic characters, sometimes they do things and they don’t even know why (which is life in a nutshell). The adults, however, are rather negligent parents, and are very caught up in the politics. Of the teenagers, one of the most interesting, although, for me, not likeable, characters is Fats. He is a teenager in the middle of a rebellion, and too smart for his own good. He is also a bully, especially to Suhkvinder, who was my favorite character.

While interviewed (several times), Rowling has mentioned that the main question of the book is “What to do about Krystal Weedon?” She is a teenager from The Fields, daughter of a drug addicted mother, sister to a neglected 3 year old (that she loves and cares for more than her mother), she is also a trouble maker and promiscuous. The only one who ever believed in her was Fairbrother, and that belief brought out a side of Krystal that most of the other characters would never have believed, and choose not to see. She, like Fats, is very central to the plot. As Rowling herself has said in the interviews, there is no clear answer about what should be done with all the Krystals of the world. But I can tell you that what happens in the book is not the choice.

As I mentioned before, it is hard to sum up this book. There are so many issues that are dealt with, just a few are; responsibility, inequality, racism, bullying, neglect, rebellion, love (familial and romantic), and more that I could name. The nice thing is that Rowling presents these in a realistic way, but there are no real answers. I think that worked. I was going to knock the book a bit, until the ending. I think if you imagine the whole story as a spiral, you start at the outer edge and the last 100 pages are where it really circles in on itself. All the characters are interacting, and every motion has a consequence, and things are happening at a much faster pace.

Final Verdict: I would only recommend if you like adult or contemporary books. It is well written but dense. If you love JK Rowling or the genre, definitely get it and make sure to read to the end. Otherwise take a pass.

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