I, like so many others, had a major part of my childhood shaped by the world J.K. Rowling had created. I grew up with seven books and eight films (plus video games and audio books) detailing Harry Potter and his adventures at Hogwarts. Therefore, when I heard J.K. was releasing a new book, The Casual Vacancy, I knew I would find myself reading it, even if I was still mourning this definite end to Harry Potter.
The Casual Vacancy is a definite departure from Harry Potter. The subject, a local election in the small town of Pagford, is worlds away from any of her previous work. The local politics of the subject area may seem dull at first glance, but it is in the intricate relationships of the townsfolk that J.K. allows her talent for storytelling and believable characters to shine. The book is separated into different sections, and rather like Stephen King’s ‘Needful Things’, each section is separated into numerical parts, with each part describing events in one particular characters’ life. The characters are confusing at first, but you can make sense of them easily enough. As soon as you can sort out Krystal from Gaia, and Colin from Gavin the story becomes much more rewarding as you begin to see the links between the characters and, in typical J.K. fashion her world becomes enthralling and enchanting.
The focus is primarily on social issues, such as drug abuse, self-harm and racism. However, the issues are never too unpalatable, and you go through the book genuinely wishing the characters well within their lives. The issues are controversial, yes, but J.K. has the ability to soften their impact and genuinely make you think about the issues in a new way. The book also has the strength of being able to show many different ‘faces’ of its characters, and show how they present themselves to their families is substantially different from how they would present themselves to the residents of Pagford.
I would highly recommend everybody, fans of Harry Potter or not, to read The Casual Vacancy. It is different, yes. It is controversial, yes. But at its heart it has the same warmth and genius that was present when her writing frequented Hogwarts. It is a departure, most definitely, but if The Casual Vacancy is anything to go buy, it is a departure that has paid off. With The Casual Vacancy, J.K. has shown, clearly to all who doubted her, that she has more than one magic trick in her pen.
By Rosanna Swain