‘The Casual Vacancy’ by J.K. Rowling

Riding on the coat tails of her huge Potter success, Rowling (by the way, her name rhymes with “bowling” not “howling”) had no need for much promotion of her new book for adults.

Being a Potter fan myself, I had to join the pre-order hordes and read the book as soon as it came out in late September. I travelled through two London airports shortly after the book’s release and it was amusing to see huge displays in the bookstores and many travellers with their noses in a fresh new copy!

The story is set in the pretty little town of Pagford, UK. All of the typical elements of  small town UK are present in the book – very recognizable and enjoyable for me since I currently reside in a pretty small UK town exactly like Pagford. But underneath the charm and cobblestones, there lurks some pretty ugly stuff. A town council member suddenly dies and creates a ‘casual vacancy’ on the town council. Of course there are issues all around the filling of the vacancy and the town politics wreak havoc on the inhabitants. Everyone in Pagford seems to be at war with someone else – loveless relationships, problems within families and marriages,  social tensions between rich and poor, friction between middle class and low income areas, cultural clashes, and so on. The best character in the book for me is Krystal, who bears the brunt of her position in life and in this town as a casualty of generations of horrible abuse and drug use. Her attempts to care for herself and her younger brother are heartbreaking and the harsh judgement and snobbish treatment of her by the villagers is appalling. One reviewer said “the book satirises the ignorance of elites who assume to know what’s best for everyone else.”

Rowling is a good writer, and her strength is in creating a lighthearted enjoyable story, but at the same time being realistic about the darkness that is ever present in this world. She brings hope by also serving up characters who are brave and bold enough to stick up for what is right and good.  That is what she did with the magical Potter story and also with this darkly comic small town tale.  

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