Several successful authors have dared to dip their toes into a different age group with their writing: Judy Bloom, James Patterson, Meg Cabot, and Kim Harrison to name a few. How did The Casual Vacancy hold up? Was it a splendid success? A dismal disaster?
The answer: it depends. Let's start with a little review first.
Barry Fairbrother is dead.
Don’t worry; I haven’t given away any sort of spoiler. We find this out two pages in as poor old Barry’s death is the catalyst for the tangled web of a story Rowling has produced. The sudden ‘casual vacancy’ his death leaves on the Parish's city council sets the small town of Pagford on its heels as the political jostling begins.
Pagford is the idyllic small English town, and their are some on the council determined to keep it that way. Their first priority? Wipe the Fields, a slum of a neighborhood that strangled out Pagford's beautiful view, off the maps. A nest of low income housing and drug dens, the Fields has been a thorn in Pagford's side for years. But the council also has members determined to help the Fields, and its residents, to keep it from falling into further decay.
In this story about a town at war, Rowling takes her time setting the stage, giving the reader a quick glimpse into the lives of all the players. And by all, I do mean all. The first twenty or so pages, while wonderfully written, felt like a test in memorization. How many people and how many little sordid bits of their lives can I recall before they're mentioned again, thirty pages later? But . . .the characters are juicy. Ones with secrets, ones with a overzealous self-appointed duty to do what is right, and ones that thrive and revel at the slightest morsel of gossip.
In typical British humor, the book is laced with quiet zingers. Rowling does a wonderful job of showing true human nature with witty and honest observations, making you both loathe and love the characters.But there are moments of heartbreak as well as we witness the group of protagonists do and do and do, and yet never quite land on the right action. What should be the priorities all too often slip through the cracks as they blindly fight for their political agendas--a message that at times bordered on too obvious.
Rowling doesn't leave the younger kids completely behind as there are a handful of teenagers who play a role in the story as well. Make no mistake, these aren't any you'd find in Harry Potter. They're troubled, rich, and very real.
So was Rowling's adult debut a success?
I found it to be a sometimes humorous, sometimes dark and heartbreaking tale of the roles of society. If you can honestly put aside your hopes that The Casual Vacancy would have a hidden patronis or muggle hidden inside, I think it's worth a read!