The Harry Potter novels are a worldwide phenomenon; virtually ubiquitous in pop-culture. The woman behind these intensely beloved fantasy novels, J.K. Rowling, is arguably a household name.
Now Rowling is back, releasing her first novel since the series ended in 2007. The Casual Vacancy is also her first adult novel. The book revolves around an idyllic English town called Pagford and the events that ensue after a local parish councilor dies, leaving a “casual vacancy.” Factions arise over deciding whether a local council estate, “The Fields” (a notoriously poor neighborhood) should remain part of Pagford.
The book focuses on the major players running for council, and their children who are harboring their own secrets. One particular focus is Krystal Weedon, a girl who lives in the Fields with her heroin-addicted mother. She dreams of escaping her traumatic life, and with the help of Barry Fairbrother, she joins the school’s rowing team and tries to improve her situation.
The Casual Vacancy uncovers many grimy details hidden beneath a seemingly perfect English town. Rowling’s novel explores sinister events on a different level than witchcraft and wizardry; instead, she focuses on social issues.
Each character’s agendas are shown, as well as their greed and prejudices. No person is flawless, and thus is intensely relatable and authentic. Yet they each contain redeeming and sympathetic qualities so the reader will empathize with them.
Overall, The Casual Vacancy is a worthy read, blending social criticism and humor with nuance. However, it is quite long at 503 pages, and it’s likely that many Harry Potter fans will be disappointed by the austere and often mundane world of local politics.