The Casual Vacancy

J.K. Rowling. Little, Brown, $35 (504p) ISBN 978-0-316-22853-4
On the face of it, Rowling’s first adult book is very different from the Harry Potter books that made her rich and famous. It’s resolutely unmagical: the closest thing to wizardry is the ability to hack into the amateurish Pagford Parish Council Web site. Instead of a battle for worldwide domination, there’s a fight over a suddenly empty seat on that Council, the vacancy of the title. Yet despite the lack of invisibility cloaks and pensieves, Pagford isn’t so different from Harry’s world. There’s a massive divide between the haves and the have-nots—the residents of the Fields, the council flats that some want to push off onto a neighboring county council. When Councilor Barry Fairbrother—born in Fields but now a middle-class Pagforder—dies suddenly, the fight gets uglier. In tiny Pagford, and at its school, which caters to rich and poor alike, everyone is connected: obstreperous teenager Krystal Weedon, the sole functioning member of her working-class family, hooks up with the middle-class son of her guidance counselor; the social worker watching over Krystal’s drug-addled mother dates the law partner of the son of the dead man’s fiercest Council rival; Krystal’s great-grandmother’s doctor was Fairbrother’s closest ally; the daughters of the doctor and the social worker work together, along with the best friend of Krystal’s hookup; and so on. Rowling is relentlessly competent: all these people and their hatreds and hopes are established and mixed together. Secrets are revealed, relationships twist and break, and the book rolls toward its awful, logical climax with aplomb. As in the Harry Potter books, children make mistakes and join together with a common cause, accompanied here by adults, some malicious, some trying yet failing. Minus the magic, though, good and evil are depressingly human, and while the characters are all well drawn and believable, they aren’t much fun. Agent: The Blair Partnership. (Sept. 27)
Reviewed on: 10/01/2012
Release date: 09/27/2012
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