The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

I really enjoyed reading this book, but I wish the author had used a pseudonym instead of her real name! Yes, she is the author of the fabulous Harry Potter novels, but don’t expect this to be Harry Potter for adults. There are no magic spells, transforming staircases or fantasy characters to be found in The Casual Vacancy, and the book doesn’t need those elements.

The Casual Vacancy, set in contemporary Pagford, England, opens with the death of local councilman Barry Fairbrother. The reader is introduced to several of Fairbrother’s friends, and through their eyes, we learn about the controversy regarding who is going to fill the now empty council seat. At issue is an undesirable neighborhood called “The Fields”, substandard housing hastily thrown up which houses, in the eyes of Pagford residents, undesirable people. Fairbrother was in favor of keeping The Fields as a part of Pagford, but his opponents want it, as well as a drug rehab facility, annexed to a nearby town instead.

Not surprisingly, the author is very skilled at drawing characters who you feel that you know. She is especially adept at portraying the teenaged children of the townspeople, and their relationships with each other and their parents. These high school kids have some real life problems, which the author does not gloss over.

There are dark elements in the book, particularly surrounding the character Krystal and her family who live in The Fields. Issues of drug use and neglect surface in Krystal’s story line, but they are realistically portrayed. J.K. Rowling has set up a foundation to help disadvantaged children, and I suspect she is writing about what she knows here.

I enjoyed getting to know the townspeople of Pagford. Typical realistic novel components such as politics, romance, sex, and suspense are all there and well done.

I urge you to take a chance on this change of pace from this highly regarded author.

But again, don’t expect it to be Harry Potter.

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