As a massive Harry Potter fan, I simply had to read her first ever novel for adults. Having pre-ordered it and anticipated its arrival for months, you might say that I was letting myself in for disappointment. It was the fifteenth highest-selling book of the year (probably largely due to a certain shady series) and has sold over a million copies in English across the world.
Set in a small fictional town but dealing with very real issues, the book is a little haunting due to its effective realism. When the Parish Councillor Barry Fairbrother dies suddenly, his place on the council is up for grabs and the electoral battle ensues. With several side plots feeding into the main thread of the story, including the heartbreaking case of the Weedon family who are plagued with drug addiction and poverty and the remaining presence of Barry Fairbrother’s ghost.
Delving into the deepest corners of relationships, Rowling is a master at creating believable characters, who are riddled with flaws. Promiscuous but lonely housewife Samantha Mollison, hot-headed, passionate GP Parminder Jawanda and terrified paedophile and deputy headmaster Colin Wall are just some of those who find themselves caught up in the chaos that is left by Barry’s departure. Looking at some serious issues head-on really causes them to resonate with the reader and self-harm, prostitution, suicide and drug abuse are just some of the themes visited, as well as class and politics being permanent motifs.
Culminating in an all-together tragic ending that brings the whole town together and reminds them of the things that really matter -love and a value of life itself. It turns the whole story on its head and actually makes you appreciate what you have. Sounds pretty heavy and philosophical for a book which has been described as a dark comedy but The Casual Vacancy covers all areas of light and dark.
You do have to persevere with it though. Not an awful lot happens until the final hundred pages or so but if you’re prepared to sit through 400 pages of regular small-town-which-has-been-struck-by-grief happenings, it’s a great read. As a result of the rather non-eventful majority, you’re never quite sure where the story is going to go and for those who love an unpredictable ending, you can’t ask for anything more.