Enter “The Casual Vacancy:” Rowling’s 2012 foray into the world of adult contemporary fiction. And if anyone is as perplexed as me by J.K. Rowling’s complete inability to write short, here’s some good news. The book rivals the beefier Harry Potter titles with more than 500 pages.
Now, if we’re talking substance: the novel opens with the death of Barry Fairbrother, a beloved member of the Pagford town council and an advocate for keeping a working-class neighborhood, The Fields, within the town boundaries. The problem is that Pagford is about as small-town-elitist as it sounds, and many disagree with Barry’s proposal. Various players vie for the empty seat, with different opinions on what should be done about The Fields, and their teenage kids have an unexpected impact on what happens during the race.
I’m not going to lie to you, pretty much every possible theme that Rowling couldn’t work with in Harry Potter, she’s piled into this book. Teen pregnancy, cyber bullying, self-harm, religion, the internet, spousal grief, city vs. country, toxic romantic relationships, sexual assault, drugs and even pedophilic tendencies. It’s a lot. Each one is treated with appropriate sensitivity, even if many are quite surface level. But it still feels like Rowling grew up in a household where she wasn’t allowed to eat sugar and now she’s a kid at a birthday party going nuts on cake. Except instead of cake, it’s rated-R content.
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She did absolutely nail the small-town-elitist thing though. I grew up in a small town with people who gossiped and made others in the town feel less-than in a very covert way. The characters in the novel are nearly all dislikable, and a main reason for that is their deplorable social skills, which are made worse by living in this close-minded small town.
But the point of reading this novel wasn’t about reading a novel for which critics, and myself, had mixed reviews. The point was that I’ve been wanting to read it since it came out in 2012. That was eight years ago. I finally picked up that book I’ve been wanting to read for eight years because coronavirus. And I don’t know about you, I’m getting a little sick of Netflix.
Don’t read “The Casual Vacancy” if you think J.K. Rowling is annoying, especially on Twitter (I wouldn’t disagree with you). Chances are, if you’re reading this column, you like to read, and I guarantee you have at least one book you’ve been putting off reading. Maybe you have to think about it, or maybe you know exactly what it is off the top of your head. Now’s the time to stop making excuses and get yourself a copy.
I’m sure this is common knowledge by now, but if you place an Amazon order for non-essential items including books, the items will take a month to get to you. As its especially important to support local, order your titles from the Bookworm of Edwards using their website. They have curbside pickup and media mail shipping. And, you get to read your books sooner.
Maybe I’ll have them reserve me a copy of “War and Peace” next. After all, I do love Tolstoy.
Casey Russell is the entertainment editor. Contact her at email@example.com.