Author J.K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame has disapparated from the world of wizards, magic potions and spells, and planted herself firmly in the muggle realm for her newest novel The Casual Vacancy.
In her first novel for adults, Rowling has completely dropped the boyhood wizard we’ve all grown to love and has settled herself in the fictional, tiny English town of Pagford.
The story centers on the casual vacancy— the official term for the death of council member Barry Fairbrother and the seat in the local government he leaves behind—which rattles the little village whose small-town politics are oddly reminiscent of Carmel’s.
The subject matter of a parish council election may sound extremely boring, and believe me, it is.
The beginning of the book, which spends too much time explaining the inner-workings of council politics, seems to drag on tirelessly, and it isn’t until about 100 pages in when things seem to pick up a bit.
But don’t worry, kids, Rowling does not shy away from the normal aspects of day-to-day small town life, such as adultery, addiction, drugs, prostitution, pedophilia, pornography, poverty, suicide, sex and some good, clean computer hacking.
Even so, Rowling finds a way to make even the most unlawful of characters seem sympathetic to readers.
Delinquent teenager Krystal Weedon and her prostituting, heroin-addict mother Terri are perhaps the most sympathetic characters in the story, and this must be attributed to Rowling’s ability to make the voice of each character distinctly heard.
Also quite memorable is the council chairman Howard Mollison, whose greed, deception and morbid obesity create a character who is just plain fun to hate.
But Rowling’s over-zealousness in her use of third-person narration and changing viewpoints makes it difficult for the reader to become truly invested in any one character.
Following 15 different Pagfordians, the book becomes almost tedious to read because it takes so much time just to figure out who is who, as well as how all of the complicated and inter-mingled relationships fit together.
The Casual Vacancy does not live up to the magical world of Harry Potter, and you probably shouldn’t expect it to do so. But Rowling has created a muggle world that proves her skill as a writer, even if the subject matter is not what I’d picture in the Mirror of Erised.