“The Casual Vacancy” by J.K. Rowling, c.2012, Little, Brown, $35
When you’re gone, you’ll leave behind many important things.
There’ll be photos and memorabilia, money, bric-a-brac, and property to divvy up. Great-grandma’s china goes here, your mother’s jewelry there, and a cherished belonging of your father’s will become someone else’s cherished belonging.
When you’re dead and gone, you’ll leave many things behind because you can’t take them with you – although, in the new novel “The Casual Vacancy” by J.K. Rowling, some wished that Barry Fairbrother had.
Everyone in the small England town of Pagford was shocked when Barry Fairbrother died of an aneurysm. He was alive one minute, gone the next - but definitely not forgotten.
That’s because Barry’s death left a “casual vacancy” on the Pagford Parish Council. In a normal year, that wouldn’t have meant much but this year, Barry’s vote on the issue of the Fields, a local housing complex, was an important one.
Political wrangling and dirty deals had allowed the Fields to be built on the outskirts of Pagford some 60 years ago, which was a sore point ever since. Always intended for lower-income residents, the area was once tidy and well-kept but was now run-down, garbage-filled, and filthy with a rehab clinic conveniently nearby. Disgusted, many Pagford residents wanted the Fields annexed to nearby Yarvil, the clinic closed, and the issue put behind them for good.
Barry, who’d grown up in the Fields, knew how important it was for the development to remain a part of Pagford. Fields children were allowed to attend better schools in Pagford, which was one way out of poverty. He was adamant about this, and had been gathering supporters on the Council.
The casual vacancy, and the matter of filling it, could change everything. Pro-Fields Pagfordians wanted to fill Barry’s seat with someone of the same opinion. The majority, however, was glad to see one less bleeding-heart liberal on the Council.
Meanwhile, over at the Fields, a child was fighting for her life.
Though it’s undoubtedly going to happen, it would be unfair to compare this novel to the Harry Potter books. They’re worlds apart.
Author J.K. Rowling’s character development is stellar (as usual) and, perhaps because she doesn’t have the luxury of seven volumes, her story is tight and succinct. Here, we meet a dead man whose presence continually lingers through the lives of friends and enemies alike. Here, we’re plunged into a small-town filled with sniping residents, each desperate to keep a deep secret under wraps, each afraid that something is going horribly, uncontrollably wrong – and quite often, it does.
This is a complex book with lots of layers, humor, pathos, and allegories everywhere. Readers may even find a timely message in this story of rich and poor and the politics that accompany them.
It should be immediately obvious that this is absolutely not a book for children, but grown-up Harry Potter fans will love it just the same. If you’re up for a brick of a novel that isn’t quite long enough, “The Casual Vacancy” is one you’ll have a hard time leaving.
Terri Schlichenmeyer is a book lover who has been reviewing books professionally for more than a decade. She lives in Wisconsin.