Review: ‘The Casual Vacancy’ By J.K. Rowling

While the magic may be gone from the plot of J.K. Rowling’s latest novel “The Casual Vacancy” which hit stores on Sept. 27, the magic of Rowling’s writing and story-telling capabilities is still in full force in her first foray into adult literature.

Set in the idyllic, fictional town of Pragford, England, the novel volleys back and forth between the points-of-view of a wide range of the town’s inhabitants, presenting the reader with an intricate story of what life is like in this small, conservative town.

The plot is centered on the death of an influential member of the town’s Parish Council, Barry Fairbrother, and the derisive battle that ensues to fill the power vacuum that his passing left. The novel is wrought with both socio- economic and familial tensions, and Rowling clearly enjoyed exploring topics such as sex, domestic violence and drug use which were off limits in the children and adolescent-oriented Harry Potter books. The book at times can be rather gritty and profane, which justifies the extent to which publisher Little, Brown & Company have been stressing that “The Casual Vacancy” is geared towards a mature audience.

Nonetheless, readers familiar with the Potter series will notice a few parallels between the books. Most of the characters in “The Casual Vacancy” are the types of people Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon would likely have been friends with: proper, intrusive, and generally close-minded sorts that remind readers instantly of Harry’s vindictive Aunt and Uncle.

The cast of characters in “The Casual Vacancy” is very realistic and human, riddled with the types of shortcomings that people find on a daily basis in real life, but that are so rarely conveyed in literature.

Readers should keep in mind that not only is “The Casual Vacancy” darker than the Potter series, but it’s a great deal more realistic too, which some might reasonably find boring. For readers who enjoy novels that mirror the real world, however, “The Casual Vacancy” is an excellent pick. Rowling’s writing is even richer and more vibrant than it was in the Potter books. Because she’s writing for an older, more advanced audience, she has more liberty to play with her vocabulary and turns of phrase. “The Casual Vacancy” is also likely to delight readers who enjoy a good mix of dark humor and social tragedy, as the novel is best defined by both.

There is a great deal of authenticity to Rowling’s book, as her writing conveys a sense that when she describes the friction between a middle-class town and neighboring low-income areas that she really knows what she’s talking about.

While the book is, a dramatic departure from Rowling’s debut Harry Potter series, “The Casual Vacancy” is a well-written and thought-out work that would be able to stand on its own even if it wasn’t written by the world renowned author.

Emily Lake can be reached at

4 out of 5 stars

Author: Staff Writer

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