The Casual Vacancy By J.K. Rowling A Review

The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling Review

When Barry Fairbrother dies in his early forties, the town of Pagford is left in shock. Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, but what lies beneath the pretty facade is a town at war. Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils…Pagford is not what it first seems. And the empty seat left by Barry on the parish council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen. Who will triumph in an election fraught with passion, duplicity, and unexpected revelations?

I have so many thoughts about this book and must preface with a little bit about my own personal beliefs. I am a very political person (I am very active in county and state-wide politics). I would identify as a liberal. All that being said, I found The Casual Vacancy to be a well-written social commentary.

I believe it is the duty of society to help everyone. That all people deserve an equal chance to live a successful life and that the government has a hand in making that happen.

Right now in the United States, the concept of how and if we should help those who are struggling is being hotly contested in the Presidential election. Do we want to be a society where the luckiest of us succeed, oftentimes because of luck or numerous intangible benefits, and the rest are left to languish or one that aims to raise the level of all people? It is a question that J.K. Rowling so deftly handles here.

Pagford, the town so beautifully created by J.K. Rowling is having this same kind of identity crisis. Many years in the past, a portion of land once owned by a famous family in town is sold and public housing is built. Those living in the housing have access to the good schools of Pagford. There are those on the council who wish for the estates to become the problem of the next largest city of Yarvil. They feel that The Fields is a blight on their perfect town. 

The Casual Vacancy has a slow start. It revolves around an entire town and is full of characters. The change of voice from one character to the next was somewhat confusing until I really started to get a feel for who each character was. Around the 300 page mark, The Casual Vacancy really picks up steam. We start to see how interconnected this community is and how they can and do impact each others lives. It is not only a story of social responsibility, that we owe to our neighbors to make sure that those with less are treated with dignity but also that the attention that we pay can save lives.

The most tragic storyline of the Weedons is handled so well. We can see why Terri, who is abused nearly from birth, is barely able to function even if she seems to want to change. Why we get a cycle of abuse when her own negligence leads to her daughter acting out and eventually getting raped. It bucks the stereotype of the lazy person with their hand out waiting for their government check to read the story of what went so wrong in one family.

The ending is really brilliant and so tragic. It is like a dance in which each character misses their turn, and one small, seemingly insignificant action has huge ramifications on the lives of the most vulnerable.

The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling is a social commentary where you are forced to imagine the lives of those around you. They can be raw and cruel but the authenticity is really gripping.

Did you enjoy The Casual Vacancy?

Do you agree that we have a responsibility to build a better society together?

All images and summary from goodreads.