Like many from my generation, J.K. Rowling’s “wizarding world” will always hold a dear place in my heart. The Harry Potter series was a significant part of my childhood, and I look back on all of those childhood years spent with “Harry and friends” with nostalgia. That being said, Rowling’s most recent book, The Casual Vacancy, is a very different work of fiction. Therefore, I will try to separate my reactions to The Casual Vacancy from the Potter series as much as possible.
The Casual Vacancy is a novel intended for a mature audience. The novel, whose overarching plot follows the societal struggles of the village of Pagford, England, deals with the conflicts between several entities. The most obvious of these is an internal struggle within the town council concerning a conflict between the altruists, who are in favor of the well-being of the less-fortunate residents on the edge of town, and the opposing faction on the council whose aim is to have the Fields, the slums on the edge of the town, be redistricted to the neighboring town. However, I found the more interesting conflicts within the story to be those inside the individual households: wife vs. husband, son vs. father, daughter vs. mother, girlfriend vs. boyfriend.
Rowling does an excellent job in fully immersing the reader into these households, delving deep into the gritty details of the daily struggles of the individuals of Pagford. While Rowling’s prose still leaves much to be desired in terms of diction and word choice, as it did in the Potter series, Rowling continues to display an uncommon knack for storytelling. In The Casual Vacancy, she is able to engage the reader with graphic and blunt honesty without the crutch of a fantastical world. Rowling’s village of Pagford comes to life through both her masterful storytelling and character development of the diverse group of Pagford residents.
All that being said, at times I felt that Rowling was a bit overly graphic, sometimes bordering on obscene. My complaints are not with the subject matter, much of it morbid, which included self-harm, graphic sex (even in a cemetery), masturbation, prostitution, drug use, death of an infant, pedophilia, and abuse, to name a few. When presented tastefully, these darker elements are not inappropriate in an adult novel. However, Rowling’s often questionable diction and overuse of metaphor somewhat cheapened these elements to a quick shock effect, perhaps the best example being a line that compared a used condom to “the gossamer cocoon of some huge grub.”
In conclusion, unless you are easily offended by profanity or are looking for “a bit of light reading,” I would recommend the book. Though it may be somewhat lacking in literary merit, The Casual Vacancy does paint an interesting picture of a small British town, and Rowling’s world-building, even in a darker, more realistic setting, is as effective as ever.