Book review: The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

The Casual VacancyThe Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Barry Fairbrother, city councilman of the small English village of Pagford, dies at the beginning of this book, and everything we learn about him is filtered through the eyes of the people who knew him — with the single exception of his wife; everything we learn about her is also filtered through the people who know her. It’s an interesting way to construct a story: the two individuals at the center at the entire plot have no say in how they’re perceived by the reader. I suspect that if Barry and his widow Mary could speak for themselves, we’d have an entirely different story.

At any rate, Barry’s unexpected death leaves a “casual vacancy” on the city council. Said vacancy quickly becomes a hotly-contested seat in a hastily-called special election. A zoning decision hinges on the outcome: Barry and his allies had been fighting to keep the slum-ridden “The Fields” connected to Pagford while other council members had been equally adamant about cutting the neighborhood loose and giving it back to a neighboring township to better preserve the beauty and quality of their fair city.

Said beauty and quality aside, Pagford is an English Peyton Place filled with backstabbing, infidelity, and unrequited love. During the run-up to and aftermath of this election, vicious rivalries erupt, families and relationships fall apart, teenagers rebel in spectacular and destructive fashion, and further tragedy strikes down the innocent.

An engaging read, well-written, and genuinely shocking in some parts. Recommended.

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