Everyone I have spoken to about The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling has told me how much they have hated this book. Some people said the story was too slow, or there were too many characters or that they just couldn’t get interested in it. Someone said that they didn’t like The Casual Vacancy because they wanted Harry Potter and Ron and Hermoine to be involved and of course, they weren’t.
I quite enjoyed the Harry Potter books, although the movies didn’t really grab me. As a reader, I nearly always enjoy a book more than a movie based on the same book. Brokeback Mountain is the only movie I can think of at the moment that I’ve preferred to the book.
I also struggled (at first) to become interested in The Casual Vacancy. There are a lot of characters whose lives are entwined and it wasn’t until I was a bit more than half way through the story that I didn’t have to actively try to place each character’s when the viewpoint changed.
The story starts with the death of a man who held a place on the local council in the English town of Pagford, leaving what is known as a ‘casual vacancy’. Almost as soon as the news of his death becomes known, jockeying for position begins amongst the remaining councillors and other townspeople, to promote their own agendas. The most controversial issue is that of the Fields, a housing estate where the poorest people in the Pagford community live. Some of the councillors would like to hand the Fields, with its drug addicts and criminals, over to a neighbouring town to administrate. This change would also remove children from the Fields from Pagford’s schools, particularly Krystal Weedon, the high school aged daughter of a drug addicted prostitute.
Barry Fairbrother, the man whose death brings about this story, was a generous, popular do-gooder who had himself come from the Fields. He and Krystal Weedon are the true heroes of this story.
Whole generations of families feature as characters in this book. They include teachers and doctors, social workers and local business people. Some are wife beaters and others are victims. Some are middle aged women looking for their youth. I enjoyed reading the stories about the teenage characters most of all, (I’m not sure if this is a true or a biased opinion on my part, since JK Rowling is best known for her teenage characters from the Harry Potter books).
All of the characters (except Barry, who died) are miserable, some with good reason. Most of the characters also had secrets or agendas they wanted to hide, some emerging as the story is told. By the time I was three quarters of the way through the book I felt very involved in some of the character’s lives and struggles and wanted better things for them, particularly Krystal. Others were just annoying, and I wanted to tell them to grow up and to appreciate what they had.
I would read another book for adults by JK Rowling, although I would appreciate an editor removing more of the boring bits and anything that doesn’t move the story along.