I was interested to see how J.K. Rowling would move on from Harry Potter. A lot of reviews I'd previously read were condemning 'The Casual Vacacny' for essentially not being another book in the famous series without really looking at this in isolation. Perhaps to my advantage (and to that of the favourable review below), I didn't connect with the Harry Potter books and only read the first two some time ago which allowed me to read The Casual Vacancy' for what it was - a stand alone novel for adults. One loaded with gossip, death, human emotion, local politics and small town syndrome - everyone's business in news.
I was surprised by how much I liked this. 'The Casual Vacancy' managed to intrigue and maintain my attention throughout the course of the entire book. While it's true, not a lot actually happens, Rowling does a great job at writing well rounded and meaningful characters full of emotion and real world problems - all of them. The premise is simple enough, a prominent town member passes and his position at head of the council becomes vacant. Once the initial shock subsides over Barry Fairbrother's untimely passing, the towns people turn to gossip and before long the seemingly humble town of Pagford turns toxic as Barry's memory and all he had worked for comes crashing down in dramatic fashion.
The ghost of Barry Fairbrother haunts every turn of 'The Casual Vacancy', from posthumously released articles in the local rag, to comments on the council's website message board. Friends, acquaintances, rivals, and impressionable (and somewhat mislead) teens all feel the brunt of Barry in death.
'The Casual Vacancy' is really a tale of two towns, one with a crisp, posh facade in Pagford, the other in a constant state of decay in the Fields. Yet, the inhabitants of these respective places almost turn about face on public perception with Barry himself coming from 'the wrong side of the tracks' while many of the teens (Fats and Andrew come to mind) would suit the Fields as apposed to being Pagford natives. This was an interesting dynamic, while the characters lead the story, the sidebar of a struggling council wanting to annex itself from the welfare state in the fields and the associated ramifications were enjoyable and entirely believable.
There are many loveable (or hateable) characters within the pages of this book. For me, Krystal Weedon, the 16yr old girl off the rails was the highlight. Coming a close second is Samantha Mollison, wife to Miles, the air apparent to Barry's throne, a 40 something who has kept her looks and body in check. She is funny, down to earth, and wholly entertaining. I love her evolution from mother to almost rebel like status. I wont delve any deeper into the characters or further into Samantha as to not give away the story. Most people will want to punch Fats. I suspect Rowling achieved what she had set out to do with his character.
This was a change of pace from my usual read, I had little expectation and was blown away by how easy 'The Casual Vacancy' was to read and how shocking some of the revelations were. I think there is a little something here most people can relate to. Given there is such a large cast of central characters, any reader would be hard pressed not to identify with certain traits and mannerisms. I Highly recommend this for those readers who can forget that this author wrote Harry Potter and can judge 'The Casual Vacancy' on its own merits. For me, 'The Casual Vacancy' gets 5 stars.