The Casual Vacancy by J K Rowling

The Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling 1st (first) Edition (2012)

Five words from the blurb: English, town, Council, revelations, duplicity 

I enjoyed the Harry Potter books, but wasn’t interested in reading Rowling’s books for adults as I didn’t think her writing quality would stand up to the transition. I was convinced that the hype surrounding this book was due to who she was, rather than the book itself. Then my book group selected The Casual Vacancy for its September read and I had no choice but to give it a try. I was pleasantly surprised and think this book deserves the attention it received.

The Casual Vacancy is set in a small English town where Barry, a respected member of the community, dies suddenly. This leaves a “casual vacancy” on the Parish Council which warring members of the committee are keen to fill with their own supporters. The book investigates the dynamics of a small community and shows the divides between working and middle class people.

The writing was better than expected, but all inadequacies were more than made up for by the emotion. I was gripped throughout and felt deep sympathy for most of the characters. The book contains many different social problems including divorce, drug use, neglected children and bullying, but all were handled without bias or judgement. I loved this realism and felt that Rowling highlighted many of the problems within British society today.

The mistake ninety-nine percent of humanity made, as far as Fats could see, were being ashamed of what they were, lying about it, trying to be somebody else. Honesty was Fats’ currency, his weapon and defense. It frightened people when you were honest; it shocked them. Other people, Fats had discovered, were mired in embarrassment and pretense, terrified that their truths might leak out, but Fats was attracted by rawness, by everything that was ugly but honest, by the dirty things about which the likes of his father felt humiliated and disgusted.

The Casual Vacancy isn’t a short read. The massive cast was initially hard to grasp, but by the end I felt I knew and understood the motivations of the everyone involved. The 500+ pages were a considerable investment of time and I felt that the book could have benefited from being slightly shorter and with fewer characters – I’d have preferred the entire book to concentrate on the story of Krystal and her three-year-old brother as this family, living a troubled life on a council estate, were by far the most interesting in the book.

Overall this was an entertaining read that revealed many uncomfortable truths about English society. Recommended.


The thoughts of other bloggers:

I absolutely loved this book! Leeswammes’ Blog

Rowling seems to have squeezed too many “issues” into the book. Katie’s Book Blog

 A few days after finishing the novel I can see the points where I can criticize, but while I was reading it I was spellbound. Keep Going You Fool


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  1. Alex says:

    I haven’t read this one as, like you, I wasn’t certain how she would make the transition. However, I read and really enjoyed the Robert Galbraith book before it was revealed who the author actually was, so maybe, like you, I would be pleasantly surprised by this. Now it’s available in paperback I might just try it.

    1. Jackie says:

      Alex, It is good to know that you enjoyed ‘The Cuckoo’s Calling’. I wasn’t tempted to try that either, but I think I might now. Hopefully I’ll enjoy it too. :-)

  2. Meghan says:

    Like you, I don’t have much interest in this, because I loved Harry Potter but hadn’t heard amazing things about Rowling’s movement into adult fiction. Maybe I should change my mind.

    1. Jackie says:

      Meghan, This book isn’t perfect, but in a weird way the flaws make you stop and think about things a bit more. I think you might like it.

  3. Annabel says:

    I agree with you that Krystal was the most interesting character. I enjoyed it, but did find it rather grim. It was also a bit overwritten for me and far too long, but as her first adult book it bodes well for future ones I hope …

    1. Jackie says:

      Annabel, I agree about it being a bit grim, but I like that in a book! Hopefully her next one will be even better!

  4. Judith says:

    I agree that Krystal and her family were the most interesting people – and very real!

    1. Jackie says:

      Judith, Yes, I loved the way they weren’t demonised. I’m still thinking about Krystal – wish I could adopt her!

  5. Despite all the mixed reviews, I’ve been wanting to read this one. It seems like a book that is going to be a pretty unique experience for each reader and won’t end up having a very general consensus. Glad to hear that you enjoyed it!

    1. Jackie says:

      Shannon, There is so much going on in this book that I’m sure different aspects will appeal to different people. I hope that you enjoy it too.

  6. Sandy says:

    I had heard mixed things about this one, and I’m really afraid of bursting my Harry Potter bubble (haha) so I did not read this one. Now, I do have her latest mystery on hold at the library because everyone seems to like that one. So you have given me something to think about. I do think the woman has talent.

    1. Jackie says:

      Sandy, Don’t be afraid of the Harry Potter bubble – it is so different in style that you can pretend it is a different author!

  7. I found the characters so unpleasant that it made it hard for me to keep going with this book. And as well, I thought she overloaded on the tragedy a bit at the end. I liked The Cuckoo’s Calling a good bit more, although part of that is just that I enjoy mystery stories more than small-town stories.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jenny, I love the fact that I was able to engage with the characters despite their unpleasantness! I also loved the ending, but I do like books towards the darker end of the spectrum! I’m becoming more intrigued by ‘Cuckoos Calling’ every day…

  8. Laurie C says:

    I hadn’t wanted to read The Casual Vacancy but the more I hear about it, the more I think I’d like it. So many people were looking for it to have the same mass appeal as the Harry Potter books that they were bound to be disappointed!

    1. Jackie says:

      Laurie, Yes, anyone looking for something similar to Harry Potter is going to be very disappointed. It is a very different book – much more dense, harrowing and bold. I think you’d like it.

  9. Jeanne says:

    I wondered if, knowing a lot more about small-town British life, you’d like this one better. It’s good to know that this is a provincial book.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jeanne, Yes, it would be interesting to know if this book appeals to the English more than those in other countries. I’m guessing that would be the case because of all the subtle references to uniquely English things.

  10. I bought this a while ago and I am keen to read it, although the length and amount of concentration evidently needed has meant I haven’t picked it up as yet. I’m glad you enjoyed it. I want to The Cuckoo’s Calling too, and have bought that one.

    1. Jackie says:

      Lindsay, Yes, the length is daunting and it isn’t a quick read. I think it is well worth the effort though!


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