Editor’s note: This spoiler-free Casual Vacancy review was written by a Hypable staff member who had early access to the book.
The Casual Vacancy by J.K Rowling is definitely an adult book. It reflects a world not unlike the one we live in where class and politics rule, and the slightest change can make all the difference in the world.
This story is not what one would expect from J.K. Rowling, who we’ve come to know as a children’s fantasy author. It is dark, sexual, filled with references to drugs, domestic violence, and based solely in reality. The story starts with a death and unravels as members of the community give their reactions. It takes a little while for the story to gain momentum and at times I wanted to put it down, but once you are introduced to the main players, the story picks up pace and becomes hard to let go of. There are several characters to follow and many of them overlap at points. Every character and relationship is flawed, and within those flaws the story unfolds.
The story starts with Barry Fairbrother’s death and at times reflects how one man affected so many lives. At other times, it is a look at families and how each one has its secrets. It looks at teens who don’t know how to deal with their parents and parents who have no clue what a teenager needs. It takes a hard look at a system that doesn’t know how to serve the people most in need and the wealthy that see no point to the system at all. The story is political, intense and very real. While reading, you can’t help but look at the state of various countries in the real world. It is certainly a book for our time but definitely not a book for everyone.
The writing is exquisite. It pulls you into the drama of what one election can mean and moves you into each character’s life so you fully understand their despair and reasoning. This is the kind of book that is hard to love because the content is so gritty and disturbing. However, it is the kind of story you respect and appreciate because it tells the story of human nature in unforgiving truths that we all know exist but sometimes choose to sweep under the rug.
This is a solid follow-up to the Harry Potter series. It is, however, a drastic departure from the tales of a boy wizard and his friends. While Harry Potter grew darker over time, there is something distinctly different about the darkness in this story. As a follow-up to a children’s series, it doesn’t exactly fit the demographic that Rowling had originally started with. While Harry Potter appealed to young and old alike, The Casual Vacancy will have difficulty crossing that gap because of the content. Again, it is not a story that will appeal to everyone and, in fact, may turn some people away.
The Casual Vacancy is a clear departure for Rowling. She has proven she can write outside the world of fantasy children’s novels and show us a world that is gritty and real.
Hypable will offer continuing coverage and analysis of The Casual Vacancy over the coming days. See J.K. Rowling’s thoughts on the possibility of a Casual Vacancy movie.