J.K. Rowling

The Casual Vacancy

Published by Little, Brown and Company

Nov 23, 2012 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Despite failing to contain so much as a whiff of wizardry, there’s still something otherworldly to J.K. Rowling’s first venture into the world of adult literature. Blame it on a decade of spooling out tales of Harry and his friends, as there’s a lyrical, fairy-tale like quality to her prose that often supercedes the story’s grounded premise.

The Casual Vacancy documents the lives of 34 residents in the fictional suburban town of Pagford, England. While this sheer size of the cast and rapid-fire introduction can lead to some confusion, the everything-at-once technique delivers the reader directly to narrative ground zero. Keep a scorecard—you’re going to need it.

Rowling employees the Lynchyan technique of assuring us that everything is idyllic…until the moment that it isn’t. When an open seat on the city council, a controversy involving the town’s low-rent district, and an Internet presence that knows too much collides, façades crumble, and “good” people are driven to extreme lengths for self-serving ends. This isn’t the story of the sins of the father being visited upon the son, but rather the whole town reaping the combined consequences of years of denying basic societal, familial, and personal needs.

Depending on where you’re sitting, The Casual Vacancy will either be read as a scathing indictment of the upper-middle class, an extended illustration of the philosopher Hobbes’ belief that life is “nasty, brutish, and short,” or a powerful reminder of the day-to-day evil that mankind is capable of committing. Regardless, it’s difficult to deny Rowling’s ability to take readers by the hand and not only lead them into lives of quiet desperation, but hold their interest until the bitter end. She doesn’t offer easy answers (or much of a resolution at all), but what she does give us is an unflinching, painful, and occasionally humorous look a world that we, like her characters, might be tempted to gloss over or ignore. For 503 pages, Rowling makes us care—which might be the greatest magic of all. (www.jkrowling.com)

Author rating: 8.5/10

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