My husband and son are serious Harry Potter fans, so J.K. Rowling is a bit of a hero in our house. I never finished the series (they are both so disappointed in me!), so I decided to make up for it by reading Rowling’s adult fiction, starting with The Casual Vacancy, which was published in 2012.
The Casual Vacancy is the story of the residents of the small village of Pagford in England. From adult battles over the town’s leadership, to teenagers keeping secrets from their parents, to marriages in varying states of decay, Pagford is populated with people unable or unwilling to find happiness or satisfaction in their lives. Then, Barry Fairbrother, a member of the village council and sports coach, dies unexpectedly. His death shakes loose resentments and highlights the conflict between the have and have nots in Pagford and its environs.
This novel took a bit to get into. The first 100 pages were a set-up for the story; that was where Rowling introduced the dozen or so main characters and how they each were connected. Once I pushed through this section, though, I flew through the book like Harry Potter in a Quidditch match (I had to do that!). Rowling is a skilled writing, weaving together multiple stories into a cohesive novel. As a result, I found The Casual Vacancy to be an engrossing and enjoyable read.
Rowling, perhaps because of her Harry Potter books, seems to deeply understand the hopes and fears of teenagers. Therefore, the teenage characters in The Casual Vacancy feel, at times, to be the most developed—and the most interesting.
Recommendation: Bring this to the beach, and get ready to think about life in a very small town. Make sure to put on your sunblock before starting The Casual Vacancy, though, as you may not want to move from the book for hours, and you don’t want to get a burn.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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