The Casual Vacancy
- By J. K. Rowling
- 503 pages.
- Little Brown, and Co.
- Hardcover: $20 Amazon, $21 BN.com
- eBook: Kindle and Nook $14.99
Since The Casual Vacancy is J. K. Rowling's first book after the Harry Potter series, it's hard not to compare, and I will indulge myself a little later.
The central character is Barry Fairbrother, a Parish Council member in the fictitious English town, Pagford. He collapses from an aneurysm on the fifth page and then dies. The remainder of the book is about the turmoil that ensues.
Barry was the leader of a faction on the Council that advocated for social and infrastructure services in the poor part of town, called The Fields. While most of Pagford is a quaint and picturesque village, The Fields, more or less a slum, was created inside the Parish when a large landowner sold part of his property to a developer 60 years ago.The anti-Fields faction wants to give it to the next town, Yarvil. Since Barry, born in the Fields, became a success, he believed that others could, too, given the right kind of aid. His death creates an imbalance on the council, with the anti-Fields faction gaining an edge.
Like the Harry Potter series, many people participate in the story: council members, candidates for replacing Barry, Fields residents, social workers, and everyone's spouses and children. Unlike the Harry Potter fable, there aren't many characters in this book that are particularly likeable, and I didn't identify with any of them.
Barry Fairbrother is the most sympathetic person in the book, and he is dead. Nearly all the other adults seem to be mean-spirited, self-centered, and greedy. One of the teenagers from The Fields, whom Barry was trying to lift out of the cycle of poverty, is also appealing, but she now faces a gloomy future without Barry's help. The other youngsters, while not as bad as the adults, are struggling with drugs, sex, and self-discovery.
Perhaps Rowling was attempting to illuminate and comment on class warfare or the difficulty in maintaining social and health programs in a time of austerity, but the sordidness of most of the characters and the way they treat each other got in the way of my getting that message.
In short, I found The Casual Vacancy interesting enough to keep reading its 503 pages. On the other hand, since there were few characters I cared about, I didn't find it particularly enjoyable, unlike every book in the Harry Potter series, which I devoured avidly.