The Casual Vacancy review

1 Mar

The plan is to give you another kind of review this time around. I have just finished reading Rowling’s new(ish) novel. I know it came out sometime ago, but I was loathed to spend money on purchasing it myself because of the reviews the book received. So I borrowed a copy from work (I work in a library).

The book is… odd. The story is slow. Point to point it jumps around, hard to follow in places because the switch in perceptions are just not explained. In places they are so random that it becomes hard to follow the story.

Plus there are an awful lot of threads to follow.

I’ll try and explain in the simplest way possible.

We start with the death of Barry Fairbrother- head of the Pagford Parish council and very much in favour of the council estate that boarders the otherwise sleepy little town. On the day of his death Barry is working on a “Pro-Fields” article for the local paper, when he dies of an aneurism in his brain.  I suppose the point of the book is see how his death effects those who knew him. Plus the squabble over the newly empty seat on the parish council.

The next big thing that happens is that we have to go through the gossip grapevine of Pagford. It takes an awful long time for all the main characters in the book to be introduced this way, and much before the story even gets interesting, I was sorely tempted to give up.


We have to keep up with at least eighteen “central” characters in this imaginary village of Pagford. Eighteen. That is a LOT of characters to keep up with, especially because Ms Rowling- usually flawless in her writing- keeps jumping between characters without little transaction between them.

It takes almost until the end of the book for the threads and links between these characters to even begin to link up. I won’t give away the ending but even at the end, there are threads that it would have been so simple to tie up.

I think the key point of this book is that the story starts with death and ends in unhappiness. The unhappiness however isn’t constructed very well- its short it’s hasty. Like Rowling realised that she was running out of time to finish it in her usual style. It is sloppy.

There is one piece at the end, where a the partner of the person who wins the free seat, tells him that she is so unhappy in Pagford that she didn’t even vote. I mean this part carries impact for the new chair of the parish council, but it is not something that has implications in the rest of the book. If this had been the partner of the person who hadn’t won, then maybe I would have been a bit more into this plot move. As it stands, could see it coming a mile off.

Another issue is that it takes a good  two thirds of the book to get to the election, which really drags. There are a few good passages that really work, but overall, its far to log for what it is.

The problem is that in a way we have set so much store on Harry Potter that I think too much was expected from this novel, even though hardly anyone knew that she was writing it before it the announced publication date.

There are good points to this book. Yes once the book gets going, we’ve got that wonderful Rowling style, completely absorbing prose that draws you into the book. So much so that you need to read to the end just to be able to say that you’ve read it and so you know what the outcome is of the original problem of the death of Barry Fairbrother. Unfortunately it doesn’t have that spark that Harry Potter had.

The Casual Vacancy suffers from over complication, too man “main” protagonists, sloppy jumps from one character to another, and to cap it all off that slightly sloppy ending.

And it genuinely pains me to say that, because I am a child of the Harry Potter generation. I remember waiting painfully for time to pass to get the next book. I had the biggest Harry Potter obsession (if you know me, you won’t be surprised!) but I was wary of The Casual Vacancy because I had read the reviews, I was aware that it maybe wasn’t up to par with Potter.

Which is why I held off buying my own copy, because I wanted to borrow a copy to read before I commited it to my bookshelf. You can see by my last review The Silver Lining’s Playbook by Matthew Quick (link?) I regretted having brought the book when I had finished it, because it is not something I was ever likely to read again.

If you ask me that same question about the Casual Vacancy, well… At the moment I would read it again, but that is because I have just finished it and want to keep the details fresh. I would certainly be loathed to spend money on a copy for myself. The thing that is pulling me to the book is that it is written by J. K Rowling. See, to have that set of her work would be the thing for me. I don’t know.

I know I certainly didn’t enjoy The Casual Vacancy as much as I hoped I might, and I do wish I had enjoyed it more.

Rating: 3 out of 5- Purely because it is well written in places.

About the writer: Stef is a 21 year old graduate who has a lifelong obsession with books and reading who also loves music and live theatre. You’re most likely to find her in a book shop or out in London standing at a theatre stage door. She can be found on twitter and running The World of Blyton.


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