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The Casual Vacancy – J.K Rowling: Book Review

December 3, 2012

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I think when J.K Rowling announced that her first non-Harry Potter related release would be a very different book, and for grown-ups, there were a lot of people who gasped a little and maintained a certain degree of skepticism about how such a novel would turn out. I was one of them. Rowling is famous for her seven Harry Potter novels, plus the publication of The Tales of Beedle the Bard, a text much referenced in the final Potter story. How would her very familiar style of writing feel when presented against topics that had nothing to do with magic, Hogwarts and Lord Voldemort?

The storyline, which begins with the unfortunate premature demise of Pagford resident and parish councillor Barry Fairbrother, centres around the council election for Barry’s replacement. And so we are introduced to characters such as Howard, Shirley, Miles and Samantha Mollison, Parminder Jawanda and her children, Arthur Price and his best friend Stuart “Fats” Wall, and the notorious Weedon family. For, you see, near to Pagford sits The Fields, a council estate attached to Pagford parish. This means that children from The Fields attend Pagford schools, the people use Pagford facilities. There’s even a re-habilitation centre for drug users in Pagford, used mostly by residents of The Fields who have developed a bit of a problem. As you can imagine, there are certain Pagford inhabitants who aren’t too keen on The Fields and its continual persistence in remaining a part of Pagford parish.  Who is elected to replace Barry Fairbrother on the parish council is of the utmost importance to this issue, as there is due to be a realignment of Parish boundaries and with the right person on board, Pagford could be rid of The Fields for good.

At first, I found it hard to accept that J.K Rowling had written this, in much the same way as I found it really tough to accept Daniel Radcliffe in The Woman In Black (“just get out your wand and use Lumos, Harry! That’ll make the ghost disappear!”). But a few expletives and sexually explicit moments later, and the woman who brought to life the wizarding world is nowhere to be seen. Considering this is her first foray into truly adult literature, J.K. Rowling has firmly established her position in this market. If there was ever a way to cast off your shackles and resist being type-cast as a children’s writer, then The Casual Vacancy is it. A gem of a novel from a writer who, when you shake off the reputation that precedes her, is barely recognisable in the best way possible.

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