The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

When I first heard about a new book by J. K. Rowling I have to admit that I was ecstatic.

However, I delayed the process of reading this novel quite a bit due to some unavoidable factors such as coursework, as well as the negative reviews the book received.

I have to admit that I started reading this novel with a certain amount of trepidation as I hadn’t heard much positive feedback about it. Although I knew that you can’t judge a book by its cover (or in this case, other people’s reviews), I began to wonder whether critics of the novel were actually right.

I can now gladly report that they were, at least as far as I’m concerned, completely and utterly wrong. Those readers who are looking for a Harry Potter Part 8 will definitely be disappointed. So will those expecting this novel to be some form of a sweet coming-of-age novel.

Although the novel does tackle adolescence, it is from an altogether different perspective. We are taken far away from the world of magic spells and sweet teen romances and plunged into a world of all too realistic back-stabbing, local elections, drug use, violence and bullying, to name but a few incriminating characteristics of the characters which pepper the novel’s pages.

Although the teenagers in this novel are not fighting against any evil sorcerers, they are all battling some horrible demons of their own. Demons who, although less fantastical, are far more familiar to us readers. As the teenagers in this novel grow into adults they have to face inevitable changes, both in their appearance, as well as in their personalities. Old friends become companions more out of a sense of responsibility than similarity, and friendships which sometimes border on venomous have to be endured because of close proximity or family histories rather than any good feelings.

Perhaps the more pressing matter for the teens in the novel is their search for themselves; or as Fats (one of the teen protagonists), calls it; “the search for authenticity.” The youngsters fight for their right to be themselves and to be able to accept themselves in spite of their perceived shortcomings. In passages that evoke some of the worst moments in every adolescent’s life, Rowling manages to accurately capture the feelings of self-doubt which rejection, bullying and betrayal may cause in a young person’s life. Feelings which many of us, I am sad to say, are familiar with.

Amongst the adult characters, we also witness disillusionment creeping into all the relationships (both between romantic or married couples and even in friendships). This is often followed by the subsequent unravelling of such relationships sometimes to an irreconcilable end.

All of this is set against a backdrop of Local Council elections and a battle for power and popularity. It is indeed the sudden emptying of a seat on the Local Council that sets the whole plot into action and the dark opening sets the tone for the rest of the novel. The reader becomes increasingly aware that the recently deceased figure will not only be missed by his friends and relatives, but he ultimately presents an opportunity most of the characters are only too eager to exploit. It is ultimately a situation which puts all the relationships in the novel to the test and shows that, as in life, some relationships are not meant to last.

However dark this novel may be, I have to admit that I was hooked from start to finish. Rowling once again manages to create well-rounded, realistic characters. Rowling has a unique talent at storytelling and in this novel, she uses it most effectively to reveal aspects of humanity and society that we may be all too keen to sweep under the carpet. We are generally so good at brushing things off as not being our concern and therefore washing our hands of the responsibility. I feel that this novel is indeed worth the read and am very eager to know what else this author has up her sleeve.