The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling
This long-awaited adult novel by J.K. Rowling was given negative reviews in the press, but I actually disagree. I actually found this book very engaging and emotional. The story is a gritty view of a small town and the many, varied characters who were affected by the death of one of its own, a man named Barry Fairbrother. Fairbrother, well-liked by many and who had been fighting to keep open a controversial methadone clinic, left a “casual vacancy,” a seat in the town council. Three men vie for this office, each with a very different motive for doing so. Undermining them are their teenage children, who are involved in a complicated small-town drama of their own. At the center of this drama, is a very troubled youth named Krystal, the daughter of a drug addict whose success for any degree of recovery hinges on this very methadone clinic. It is Krystal who turns out to be the character with the most heart and, in my opinion, is the most beloved in the book.
In addition to creating characters that are interesting, complex and engaging, the author weaves a story that depicts themes of prejudice, stereotypes and class differences. Prejudices that the parents have are thrust on their children and this either permeates their children’s behavior or it backfires in a dramatic way. And the teens have prejudices of their own and both the leaders and the followers are punished for them in different ways. Sadly, too, there are innocent victims and this is where the book is very real.
This book differs starkly from the Harry Potter books. There, magic helps to save the heroes. Here there is no magic — it’s real life.