“A needle-sharp and darkly comic expose of today’s class-ridden society . . . A highly readable morality tale for our times”

 

NO MAJOR SPOILERS

Rowling’s first release post-Potter and received mixed reviews. Even now it’s a love or hate book. I bought it in paperback because I couldn’t live with that pink dust cover. So I got it home and began reading it but by the time I got to around page 50 or so, I’d had enough and put it in my hated pile, which isn’t all that large in reality. Anyway, a few months later, I decided to give it another go, and I’m really pleased I did.

Previous reviews I’ve read also attempted to find a meaning behind the story line, and that’s fine. However, we must always remember is that such reviews are very subjective, and therefore are the views of that writer. Some of those ideas of meaning circle around the large number of different social issues within the village location.
There’s also the usual ‘us and them’ feelings that were quite common within some country villages. The usual politics are there in the shape of the Parish Council, which has the casual vacancy of the title. The big issue for the council surrounds the use of a village hall and an application to change its usage, supported by the local ‘big wig’, and the social climbing Chair of the council.

Sexual interest is provided by a teenage girl who seems to be willing to take on all-comers while she tries to look after her younger brother and junky mother, with a couple of others which I won’t mention for fear of doing a spoiler. There’s the usual criminal activity with its attendant worries and concerns for his family.

In among all this, there remains the casual vacancy on the parish council that lies behind the story, brought about the death of one of its members. In the end, I was pleased that I did give it a second go; and I really did enjoy it. As I said at the start, all reviews are very subjective, so here’s my view of it. Obviously it is widely different style of writing to the Potter books, which really shouldn’t be a surprise see it is an adult book. For me I found it well written and easy to read, which is always a big thing for me.

So what of the meaning then? What I got from it was how much of an impact that one man can have on everyone around him, in this case, the dead councillor. Think of James Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life. If you haven’t read it yet, give  it a go, you might be surprised.

 

Reviewed by:

Ron Clark

Added 14th July 2015

More Reviews By
Ron Clark

NO MAJOR SPOILERS

 

The first adult book published by J. K. Rowling starts with a guy dying from a brain aneurysm (I wouldn’t count this as a spoiler since it happens in the first two pages).

The consequences of his death – including the vacancy of his post as a town councillor – occupy the rest of the book. It so happened that I started reading it in a phase of acute hypochondria due to recurring headaches and I could not go reading on for several months (until, that is, I actually had a brain scan). However, my reaction should not be imputed solely to my personal strain of craziness.

Barry Fairbrother’s death is extremely disturbing, graphic in its suddenness, and certainly manages to underline that this is not a children’s book.

Once I got back to it, I gobbled up Rowling’s novel with deep pleasure; because it is a well written story, and because its characters remain deeply etched in memory. Rowling’s sympathy with children is however fully alive: a good part of the novel is filled with young teens .

A great part of the book’s charm is about its gripping story, with a slightly schematic division between the ‘good’ and the ’bad’ part of town (the socially ‘good’ part being also, by and large, morally ‘bad’: vindictive, cowardly, egotical…). In this, perhaps, it lacks finesse; but it is a relief to find a book actually very hard to put down.

 

Reviewed by:

Alessandra Quattrocchi

Added 20th June 2015

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