When Barry Fairbrother dies in his early forties, the town of Pagford is left in shock.
Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, but what lies behind the pretty façade is a town at war.
Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils ... Pagford is not what it first seems.
And the empty seat left by Barry on the parish council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen. Who will triumph in an election fraught with passion, duplicity and unexpected revelations?"
My Review: THIS IS NOT HARRY POTTER. This is the first thing I absolutely must stress. I know a lot of people disliked this book because they were expecting something enchanting, fun, adventurous from the author of our beloved Harry Potter series---and that's definitely not what they got. If you walk into this book expecting anything...especially anything Harry Potter-ish...then you will be sorely disappointed. However, if you read this book with an open mind and a penchant for good story-telling...I think you'll be quite pleasantly surprised.
The thing is, it's a bit hard to review this book, in terms of plot. There isn't much of a plot and yet there are many small plots that intersect and tie into each other in various ways. I will say that the book seems boring at first: Rowling sets up a small town and introduces a multitude of characters---most of them unlikable, a few of them despicable, and only a small handful seemingly sympathetic---who immediately confuse you because there's so many of them and you don't understand how they all connect and why you even care about them.
Ah, but here's the thing---you're not supposed to care about them. If the Harry Potter series showed me that J.K. Rowling is a wizard (pardon my pun) story-teller, then The Casual Vacancy showed me that she's a masterful writer who can definitely go beyond the genre she's famous for and is brilliant at writing human nature. The people in this book are not largely likable or sympathetic---they're just real. Their personalities, their families, their struggles, their thoughts...are just so real. No one is a cliche stereotype, no one is a trope. Teenage boys and girls, middle-aged men and women, elderly people... Mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, friends, crushes, in-laws, bullies... Every type of person and relationship is in this book and some of them ring so true of reality that it's amazing. Even the characters I loathed, I could still see how utterly human they were---because I know people like them! And some of the characters in the book, while different from me, would have thoughts or ideas that were similar to my own!
That was what made this book so good. With a larger plot about class warfare and the stigma that comes with those born and bred in poverty, J.K. Rowling spun a web of characters so flawed and real and human that it wasn't until the end---when you realized everyone had had a role to play in leading to the conclusion, no matter how small or large of a role---that you realized this book was incredible. It showed the complexities of a small town community, of close minds and old prejudices and stereotypes, and how the smallest of actions and relationships can lead to the most curious of connections and consequences.
Is it a book I'd read again? Probably not. Maybe in a few years, to remind myself what good writing really is. Is it a book I enjoyed? Not really; there wasn't much to make you smile. There was quite a lot of disturbing stuff in it, actually, in subtle ways. But it did surprise me with how good it was, and how simply she managed to make it happen, so yeah, I'd say that anyone who enjoys good characterization and details about small town life and its even smaller people would like this book.
Cover: I know there are multiple covers. The American cover tends to be that bright red and yellow cartoonish cover, yet my library had this cover. I like this cover better, actually, it subtly hints to the small town debacle you're about to get yourself into quite well.
Overall Grade: A+