It is called “The Casual Vacancy.” It is for adults, and it is not about adult wizards.
At some level, the very existence of “The Casual Vacancy” represents a truckload of moxie. Namely: If you were Rowling, and you had sold 450 million copies, and your seven HP books had been made into eight blockbuster movies, would you be diligently writing another book, or would you be buying Monaco and drinking bottomless Kir Royales on a raft in your Brita-filtered pool? Think of the panic she must feel, hoping readers will judge the work on its own merits, wondering whether she should have released this novel as “Joanne Kathleen.”
At another level, this book represents a truckload of shrewdness. In her first grown-up novel, Rowling has chosen to construct her plot around a local municipal election — a world so far away from Platform 93
4that it would be unfair and ludicrous to compare it with her previous works.
Except, of course, that Rowling’s signature moves are still there on every page. Just as her boy-wizard series opened with an archly winking look at the upending of the Dursley family’s boring lives, “The Casual Vacancy” does the same with a town. One man suffers an untimely death, the gossip mill churns, and Rowling offers the twinkly observation, “It was all immensely exciting.”
The dead fellow in question is Barry Fairbrother, whose passing leaves behind one grieving widow, four cameo-appearance children, eight members of the high school crew team he coached, and one empty seat in the town council of Pagford, an English parish girding itself against the encroaching urban sprawl of nearby Yarvil. Several men toss their hats into the election ring for the eponymous “casual vacancy” on the council: Simon Price, a petty criminal who sees the government position as a means to blackmail and bribery; Colin Wall, a duty-bound school principal; and Miles Mollison, the son of an existing council member whose parents want him elected to clinch support for their pet issues.
Pagford’s biggest issue — acreage-wise, at least — is the Fields, a blighted, low-income neighborhood whose residents dare to take advantage of Pagford’s schools and churches, marring the tidy gardens with their grimy poverty. The Mollisons are leading the charge to have the Fields placed under Yarvil’s jurisdiction. The late Barry Fairbrother had been their most vocal opponent, mentoring a potty-mouthed Fields girl named Krystal, who is fooling around with Colin Wall’s son, who is best friends with Simon Price’s son, who is in love with the daughter of the caseworker assigned to Krystal. The younger generation must squirm against the parents’ misdeeds. The storylines interweave as characters interfere with one another’s business. Nearly every character gets a narrative point of view.