Book Review: The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

Book Review: The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

Pub. Date: 27th September 2012
Publisher: Little, Brown
Pages: 512
Readership: Adult fiction
Genres: Contemporary
Rating: ★★★★
Buy: Hardback
More: Goodreads

When Barry Fairbrother dies in his early forties, the 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 parish 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, one of the most highly anticipated titles of the year. I was both nervous and excited about starting it. I was thrilled when I heard the news that J.K. Rowling was writing a novel for adults. I think it was the right direction for her to take as a children’s novel so soon would have been instantly judged against Harry Potter. I was nervous because I know I wouldn’t have picked it up based on the title, cover or blurb (one of which usually appeals to people before they pick up a book!), yet this made it incredibly exciting because I really didn’t know what to expect. I had assumed, for some reason, that it’d be ‘literary fiction’, yet it is quite far from that, which is by no means a criticism. I’m still unsure as to what genre it comes under exactly, but if it were a TV show, it’d definitely be a drama. And it works surprisingly well.

The Casual Vacancy has a multitude of characters, each equally fascinating and distinctive. I wasn’t too sure whether I’d be able to keep track of all of them but J.K. Rowling is so meticulous about her detail and description (something I now realise I should have expected) that I quickly got to know each character well. Perhaps it is full of contrived, stereotypical characters, but perhaps that’s the point. We fit people into social categories, like Miles the pompous, smug, middle class man who’s deeply involved in politics, to Krystal, the girl from the drug-addicted family who lives in the poorest, deprived area in Pagford.

But The Casual Vacancy isn’t just about class, it’s about society as a whole and portrays nearly all of the expected conflicts, from the personal to the societal, between family, friends, colleagues, neighbours, classmates, genders. Pagford is a close community. Its citizens’ lies are entwined, often much to their dismay.  There’s dramatic twists and unexpected melodrama. I had to continue reading to the very end, even though it was past midnight, once I’d reached the climax of the story.

I think it’s unfair to compare The Casual Vacancy to Harry Potter, even it will be (and I’m looking forward to finally reading the reviews). It’s for a different readership and tells a completely different story, with the exception that characters are at the heart of both stories.

I couldn’t help but find The Casual Vacancy utterly entertaining. It’s the best way to describe it; it’s not going to change the world, but it does an excellent job of showing us how we see it.

24 thoughts on “Book Review: The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

  1. Wonderful review Stacey :). Even though I haven’t gotten very far at all in The Casual Vacancy I’ve found it so entertaining,especially at the parts where the characters are swearing. It’s such a refreshing change from Harry Potter and I have to say that J.K.Rowling is a remarkable observer of society.

  2. Great review! I especially liked your last line. Very true.

  3. Good review! I’m hoping to start it sometime soon and I’m glad to read your positive review, having seen the press. You got it in one, it’s for a different audience and comparisons are difficult to make.

  4. I really wondered how J.K. Rowling’s new book would turn out. It is good to know you enjoyed it. I’ll have to give it a look.

  5. […] “I couldn’t help but find The Casual Vacancy utterly entertaining. It’s the best way to describe it; it’s not going to change the world, but it does an excellent job of showing us how we see it.” Pretty Books […]

  6. I’m just reading it so I’ll come back to read this later and see how we compare 😀

  7. No way. Most of the readers here mope the books differences over Harry Potter, which simply irritates me. I am glad you were among the ones who knows how to isolate a books from the other works of an author.

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  9. I loved this book, it was so great. And just like you said in the review: I’d never pick it up if I judged by the cover or the synopsis… But I’m glad I did.
    Great review, I agree with all of it. 😉

    My review

  10. Now you’ve done it. Wonderfully convincing review, after I’ve read bad and impartial critiques of the book so all I am left to do is part with yet more money to buy the darn thing and read it myself.
    Lovely and refreshing blog 🙂 How regular are the reviews posted?

    • This is a lovely comment, thank you! I hope you enjoy it otherwise I’ll feel quite bad 😉

      I try to post at least 2 a week as I write and post them as soon as I finish a book. Hopefully more over the Christmas period!

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  12. I see that you posted this a while ago and I know I’m late to the game, but I had a hard time getting into the book and never finished it. I also noticed that you are from England, so I was wondering if you think the book appeals more to you because of that? Maybe I didn’t enjoy it so much because I couldn’t relate to it very much… (I’m from the US.)

  13. Good review. I particularly like your comment: But The Casual Vacancy isn’t just about class, it’s about society as a whole and portrays nearly all of the expected conflicts, from the personal to the societal, between family, friends, colleagues, neighbours, classmates, genders

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