Review: The Casual Vacancy

I finished reading The Casual Vacancy, J.K. Rowling's new novel, a couple of weeks ago and needed some time to let it settle. I've read some reviews from eminently more qualified and educated people, so I won't even try to compete with them.  One thing I've noticed is that this book got people talking.  She has constructed a controversial story that is very far removed from the world of Harry Potter, at least in some ways.

One of the good things about reading is owning your own impression of what you've read. No one can tell you what to think or how to feel. It's a personal experience, and whether or not you liked a book, your impression can linger and come back to you.  I like to think that everything I've ever read has enriched me, taught me or simply entertained me.

Keep reading for a few of my thoughts on what I found memorable about this book.

The Casual Vacancy is a challenging, unsettling, twisty, brilliant novel, and the characters within run the gamut from corrupt, perverse, greedy, selfish, abusive, sarcastic, antagonistic, uncompassionate and secretive to desperate, misunderstood, victimized, neurotic and lonely. There are many descriptions for the characters because there are so many characters. Here is a link to a list of who's who:

The Casual Vacancy is a dark tale that takes place in a small, fictional town called Pagford. A "casual vacancy" is created when a council member dies and a spot becomes available on the local government. Barry Fairbrother is the "good guy" in the story, the lone adult who doesn't have any serious character flaws. Since he dies within the first few pages, he's immortalized as a genuinely nice man. If he hadn't died, and one of the other council members had instead, would we have seen another side to him? His death causes major upheaval in Pagford, and many lives are affected.

One of the things I like about The Casual Vacancy is the multiple points-of-view perspective. The various townspeople have a lot of secrets, and a major focus of the story is the way those secrets affect each other. Knowing their true thoughts and motivations makes the story much more engaging. I found that some of the more interesting characters were the ones with the biggest flaws. The people with the most — the most money, the most advantages — were the ones who were painted the blackest.

Howard Mollison is one of the chief antagonists on the council. He is described as a fat, rich, greedy man who manipulates others to suit his purposes. He is an extreme version of Uncle Vernon from the Harry Potter series. Both characters are well off, snobbish, overweight men with conservative views who look down on those less fortunate than themselves.

Uncle Vernon (Source:

Krystal Weedon is one of the main characters, a girl from The Fields, a housing project scorned and looked down on by the privileged Pagford citizens. Barry has taken a special interest in her, and is attempting to get her story published in the newspaper to bring public support to the less fortunate Fields people at the time of his death. A war is underway on the council between Barry and some other council members, who want to annex The Fields to another town, close the addiction clinic, and send the children to another school district. Krystal is both a bully and a fiercely loyal teenager who tries to raise her little brother despite a heroin-addicted mother.

The Casual Vacancy is a study of human nature, community and social services. Children are often victimized both by each other and by adults. Several teenagers use a public forum to expose the skeletons in their parents' closets. Council members become ruthless in order to settle The Fields and the addiction-clinic situations. Some people resort to desperate measures to resolve their problems.

What is J.K. Rowling's message in this novel? I think it's that society will allow terrible things to happen to those who most need help. The people who have the means to incite change are the ones least likely to do so because they are the most self serving.

RATING: 4.5/5

If you've read The Casual Vacancy, we hope you'll share your thoughts about it with us below. Who were the most memorable characters for you? What message did you walk away with? How well do you think Rowling made the transition from young adult to adult themes?


  1. I've been trying to decided whether or not to read this. But, I think you just made up my mind Donna. Definitely adding this to my reading list.

  2. Me too, Anne. I've never read a J.K. Rowling book (*ducks head*) so I wasn't sure what to expect. I never read any Twilight books either, but I did try Stephenie Meyer's "adult" book The Host and loved it, so I was thinking maybe I wanted to try this one. Thank you for your review, Donna!

  3. I've been trying to decide if I want to read this or not. Everything I've read makes it sound like a book with a Message (capital M), and I'm not sure that appeals to me.

    BTW, Kathi, I read The Host, too, and loved it. Thought it was very different from the Twilight books, and was very surprised by it.

  4. Well, I've read all her books (more than once), and was determined to keep an open mind. I've read many reviews from both professionals and fans alike, and found many of those who were disappointed were so because they were not able to separate and judge this book on its own merits.

    The Harry Potter books have been read multiple times in our household. They are much loved and are falling apart. My daughter won't let me replace them, she loves them just as they are.


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