When it was announced that the world is to be expecting a new JK Rowling book, one thing was made very clear: this is not going to be a Harry Potter book. As I patiently waited for the book’s arrival–if you could consider pre-ordering the book months in advanced patiently–I thought to myself, really, how different could the book be from the Harry Potter series? A part of me really wanted to think that by “adult novel” she just meant the post-Hogwarts years.
As it turns out, The Casual Vacancy could indeed be very different. JK Rowling is the prime example of “turning over a new leaf”. The novel, set in small town Pagford, follows the aftermath of the untimely death of young parrish councilor Barry Fairweather. The novel follows the numerous perspectives of the townspeople, from conservative politicians to drug addicts to rebellious teenagers.
There is no denying the fact that this book has a dark sense of humor. Unlike the charm of the wizarding world, each character is secretive and, at least once, plays the role of the “bad guy”. For JK Rowling, this means a lot of mixed reviews: the New York Times, in response to the novel’s characters, made the claim that they are, “self-absorbed, small-minded, snobbish and judgmental folks, whose stories neither engage nor transport us”, whereas the Chicago Sun Times finds the merit in Rowling’s writing as a good departure from her early works.
Although this book is entirely different from anything I had expected, there is something so beautifully “JK” about it. The story-lines weave perfectly into each other and there are the unexpected plot twists not dissimilar to her previous novels. Coming from someone who grew up with JK’s writing, The Casual Vacancy was a huge change, but perfectly timed none the less. The book is well suited to the audience that had picked up The Sorcerer’s Stone all those years ago. It addresses social issues such as class struggles and drug use, (not to mention frequent references to Rihanna songs), leaving no shortage of controversy and making it worthy of its “adult novel” status.
If you are looking to this book to reignite the magic of the Harry Potter series, you are looking in the wrong place entirely. Pagford is a seemly dull place, but as the novel progresses this facade breaks apart. It takes a while to get used to the drastic change in language; this novel has, on multiple occasions, many similarities Charles Dickens type of world. The writing is completely dialectal and the setting is rather dismal, something that Dickens’ writing had been criticized for. There are no warm feelings to be had at the end of the novel, but this allows Rowling to make a very clear statement about the way in which people interact.
When you look at The Casual Vacancy in separation from the Potter novels, it does tell engaging stories about real world problems. Even if you’re not from small town England, the book is entirely relatable to the everyday struggles and conflicts we see within our society. It is a very powerful novel, with moments of humor spread throughout, making it definitely worth the read.