After completing the Harry Potter series in 2007, the world was left pondering what JK Rowling would do next. For five years, she seemingly disappeared, only popping up for worthy charities or personal projects like Pottermore. Now, she marks the anticipated release of her first adult novel, The Casual Vacancy.
First things first, it has to be said that this book is not for children. As a kid who grew up with the Harry Potter series, beginning the book was a little heartbreaking, as her writing style and cadence were so familiar. It only took a few pages to realise that the books contents, however, were not. This is an aspect that is a little difficult to overcome initially, but if you’re prepared for the shock, the book is a wonderful surprise.
A casual vacancy is the name given when a member of local council suddenly vacates their position. In the novel’s case this occurs when charismatic, charming Barry Fairweather dies unexpectedly of an aneurysm in the golf club’s car park. In the wake of his death, the town of Pagford is left shocked and scandalised.
What follows is a race to fill the vacancy Barry left behind, all while providing an insightful and provocative view of small town culture. The initial difficulty with the book was keeping up with all the characters – there’s crackheads, slimy politicians, social workers, principles and doctors, not to mention their whole well-rounded cast of partners, wives and children. Initially there’s a lot of names, and no indication of switching between their points of view, but as the book progresses, the pieces fall into place and you begin to understand how they are all connected.
The book is by no means a rapidly moving one, but it instead unfurls, letting the pieces fall into place as the plot quietly develops beneath the intricate and very human relationships. JK Rowling has hit the voices of her characters spot on, and despite such a vast number of characters not one of them feels underdeveloped or forced.
The novel is far grittier and darker than anything Rowling has ever written before. Readers need to brace themselves for depictions of self harm, drug use and the occasional sex scene, but there’s nothing gratuitous about those scenes. Even the tougher to read scenes add to the rich, provocative insight into small town life. She hits on points that are incredibly thought provoking, such as concealed domestic violence, the teenage angst-ridden search for authenticity, and crippling isolation and grief.
While the book is a departure from anything we have come to expect from JK Rowling, it is still a surprising and thought provoking read that you simply won’t be able to put down.
Available now: Hachette RRP$39.99