What do you write after you have created an insanely, culturally phenomenon-y children’s book series that has led you to be a billionaire? Why, a book about a small village board election, of course!
There is no magic in The Casual Vacancy. Hogwarts and Harry Potter have been left far behind, as this book is set firmly in the world of small-minded, petty muggles. The town of Pagford is thrown into disarray when the popular council member Barry Fairbrother suddenly dies. Two factions struggle with class issues, as one wants to rid the town of the council housing and the poorer residents who reside there, while others want to support it as well as the addiction center. This is not a matter of good versus evil though, as every character is acting based on a variety of motives, selfish and altruistic.
Although on the surface it’s hard to imagine a book more different than the Harry Potter series, there are some ways in which The Casual Vacancy echoes the strengths of Harry Potter. I think that JK Rowling’s characterizing skills are just amazing. Just as in Harry Potter, no one is simple. This book is told from a variety of viewpoints — from an aging cougar to a drug addicted mother to a teenage girl who is being tortured for her mustache. I feel as though I knew the citizens of Pagford by the end of the novel. Some I loved, and some I despised, but they all rang true.
Also, I have always felt that the Harry Potter books have a focus on the problems of class. Instead of wizards looking down on muggles and “mudbloods”, the people of Pagford more blatantly struggle with their place in the world, whether they are junkies being looked down on by the more upstanding citizens, or doctors who feel as though they will never be fully accepted and respected. While everyone is too polite to admit it, class still has as much sway on these characters as it did in the 19th century.
After reading this book, I’m convinced that JK Rowling is a storyteller for all genres, not just the more magical ones. I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.