The Casual Vacancy – J K Rowling [Book Review]

The Casual Vacancy

J K Rowling

Book Review

As a huge Harry potter fan, I was incredibly excited to get my hands on a new book by the fabulous J K Rowling! I was pleased that she had chosen to write something that would be very different from Harry Potter, and I was eager to see how she approached a new genre ad a new audience.

When Barry Fairbrother dies, the town of Pagford is left in shock, and his vacant seat on the council becomes a catalyst for a lot of difficult times for the residents of Pagford. This is a character driven novel, and the lives of the characters are the main focus of the plot. I find that reading about people’s lives and experiences very interested so I liked this way of approaching the book.

There are few themes not explored in this book. J K Rowling has really got into the nitty gritty things in human lives and this book features unhappy marriages, failed relationships, death, depression, anxiety, bullying, self harm, drugs, teenage sex and many more! It does not make for a cheerful book, but one that keeps you grimly hooked on what is happening. She has done a fantastic job of giving her characters real voices – the narrative voice switches between a number of characters – and as well as giving you stories from multiple perspectives, the switches are flawless. The voice of a sixteen year old boy is very different from the voice of the middle aged housewife – it just felt like I was talking to real people!

An important theme that I noticed through this book is that of prejudice – in particular social prejudice. I think this is clearly reflected in the thoughts of SOME of the middle class residents of Pagford. Many are very judgemental about the “fields” council estate that is built next to their town, and many want to have nothing legally to do with it. The overall opinion of the fields residents is less than pleasant and all the residents seem to be tarnished with the same brush. The residents of Pagford that do fight for the fields, want to keep it and offer support to the few families that need it seem to be negatively judged for this belief. Unfortunately, I have encountered people with extremely negative views about council housing residents, and I think it is pretty uncalled for. It doesn’t matter where you live, it HOW you live and the choices you make that are the important thing. I think housing, class and how much money people earn leads to more prejudiced thoughts than many people are willing to believe.

One particular family from the fields is the Weedon family. The mother, Terri, has a heroine addiction and there is a consensus among the Pagford council that she is be beyond help, ad that the drug addiction centre is pointless because people just go back to taking drugs. I particularly like the social workers argument back to this view – perhaps is there were more focus on finding the source of Terri’s problems, and what leads to the drug taking then she may be more successful at staying off them. Simply saying “stop taking drugs” does not work without finding the source of the problem.

So, does this novel put the British middle class in a bad light? I don’t think it does excessively. I think all the characters in the book have both good points and bad points. I think that the social prejudice is exaggerated – although certain families or individuals may share this view it is probably uncommon for an entire town to. I think J K Rowling exaggerated the percentage because it is a novel that seems to be making a point and fighting for a cause. I think there is a message for everyone behind his – don’t judge people when you don’t know them – and I don’t think that message is limited to one particular social class!

I have heard a fair bit of criticism about the swearing and sex that is present in the novel. I think my response to that is… Yes you get that is some adult fiction. I don’t think it was ‘out of place’ at any point in the novel, and I didn’t find it unusually excessive or graphic. To be honest, I’ve read Stephen king books with more frequent bad language and no one complains about him! The Casual Vacancy is an adult novel with adult themes – expect swearing and sex!

Overall I loved every single page of this book and I cant actually wait to read it again at some point! I feel that there is more I could get from it of I read a further few times. I recommend this book if you like character driven fiction, real life scenarios and of course J K Rowling. Just remember, this is not Harry Potter – and it’s still fantastic!

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