The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

 There are a lot of “big books” this fall, much-anticipated books by well-known authors, such as NW by Zadie Smith and Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon. Perhaps the biggest of all is The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling (author of the Harry Potter books. In case you’ve been living under a rock since 1997).

Very little information about The Casual Vacancy was given out before its official publication date, other than that (1) it would feature neither witchcraft nor wizardry, and (2) it was for adults, not children. Having just finished the book, I can confirm that both of these things are true. I can also tell you a bit more:

The Casual Vacancy begins with the death of Barry Fairbrother. Barry leaves behind a widow, four children, and an empty seat on the Pagford town council. There is an important vote coming up, concerning the Fields, a low-income housing area that has long been a thorn in the side of many Pagfordians. Depending on the result of the vote, the Fields will either remain part of Pagford, or will become instead part of the larger neighboring town of Yarvil, which will most likely close down the Bellchapel Addiction Clinic. (Pagford’s small, but not sleepy.)

Enter an ensemble cast of townspeople who are, largely, self-important and petty. There are gossipy old women, self-conscious and selfish teenagers, resentful wives, fearful wives, affluent families and poor ones, insiders and outsiders. This isn’t a comedy or a farce; Rowling’s skill is such that each character is multidimensional. Though they don’t understand each other, and tend to assume the worst, the reader sees the true motivations behind their behavior. Every character wants something, which makes each character believable.

On top of that, Rowling is, as we all know, a master of pacing, and The Casual Vacancy is compulsively readable. For more detail (but no serious spoilers), read my review on Goodreads.

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