Posted by: Corri van de Stege | December 19, 2013

The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling

J.K. Rowling‘s ‘The Casual Vacancy‘ is a book for adults, unlike the Harry Potter series for which she has become famous.  It’s about a small provincial and imaginary town Pagford and its inhabitants.  The book has been reviewed extensively, but I wanted to find out how good (or bad) it was, given the very mixed views it received, from the view that it is actually quite good to a view that it is ok but nothing very special.



In Pagford everyone knows everyone else, or at least knows about everyone else and the different social classes are at war with each other, even if not out in the open.  Anyone who has ever lived in a small town or village knows what it is like and Rowling manages to evoke the reality of provincial life very well.


There are the good and decent citizens of Pagford itself who would nothing rather than be rid of the poor estate called The Fields, and pass it back to the district town council so that the estate’s children would no longer qualify for entry to the nice local primary school in Pagford.


The story flicks from young to old, disenchanted couples, and misfit singles to self-harming, sex-obsessed and drug taking teenagers, from petty thieves to social workers, a head teacher to shopkeepers.   There’s a golf club in Pagford where at the start of the story the good Barry Fairbrother, husband to Mary and father of four children drops dead, just like that, leaving a cap on the council, which is the casual vacancy of the title.  And the fight for who will take that vacancy is on.


Showing the mundane and dark side of small town communities, Rowling introduces us to the malign, the boring and ordinary, the racist and self-serving, the self-satisfied and the altruistic characters that populate Pagford and does it in a Harry Potter like way by conjuring up the whole community with all its varieties and ranges from the good to the bad characters.


It is an enjoyable read because of the well worked out plot and character development.  Rowling is sharp in her observations.  However, it is not a book for savouring literary and finely wrought sentences, and for the development of deep thoughts and ideas.  It is a straightforward setting out and development of a story that ends badly in some respects and also the notion that such communities  will carry on regardless, will always be there, populated by people who gossip and inflict harm on each other, either because they are simply not very nice people or because they have not actually realised how much harm they cause.


It’s not a book highest on my list of recommendations, however, it has a good plot and some very sharp insights into how teenagers view the world around them in their different ways.  These are the kids that you come across on the bus or the train, in the street or just hanging about, they are in the recent tv series (in England) about the workings of schools in Essex or Yorkshire or wherever.


If you do want to indulge in a not too-demanding enjoyable story that is well written then this could be your answer.







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