The Casual Vacancy


The Casual Vacancy is a book about the idyllic town of Pagford and the people who live there. Councillor Barry Fairbrother drops dead suddenly and elections are on for the next Councillor to sit in the Pagford Town Council.

The elections are complicated by an ongoing issue that is causing a lot of conflict. A decision needs to be taken about the problems of the folks living in a slum-like area nearby – these people and their houses are a major drain on public expenditure. Lots of public money is poured into resources for them and there is very little to show for it.

The good people of Pagford would like to wash their hands off this area and re-draw their boundaries so that Pagford remains as idyllic as it used to be.

But all this comes at a cost and is the town willing to pay the terrible price?

My Thoughts

Damn, but this is a grim and sad book. I realized I was subconsciously expecting the good guys to come up on top (just like Harry Potter where sad things happen but ultimately it’s a happy ending). But in this book, Rowling dispenses with the happiness and light ending and really ratchets up the tragedy quotient.

Was this a spoiler? I hope not. I just want readers to know beforehand that this book is not at all like Potter, not in the least bit, and to be prepared with the handkerchiefs ready, and not read the book in public, and not to get caught off-guard at the end.

So, apart from being sad, what else can I say about the book? I have to admit the first 150 pages or so were quite slow, with a number of characters introduced into the story. It was bloody hard for me to keep track of who is who, and who is important and who is not.

But once all that confusion got sorted out in my mind, and I was able to differentiate a Samantha from a Shirley, the book started to get interesting. Rowling has an awesome way of developing people’s back stories and making us relate to even the most unsympathetic people.

I also love how she describes the children (teenagers actually) in the book. Her character sketches are spot-on.

What I didn’t quite love is the way she moved the plot forward. Maybe it’s me, but I hate a plot point repeating itself in several places with the exact same result.

I know this above sentence sounds vague to people who haven’t read the book, but trust me, if/when you read this book you will be struck by this aspect too. It’s so sharp that when I returned to this book after a brief gap I felt I had already read the new sections.

So, that was a huge flaw in the book and stopped me from appreciating it fully.

Another (not a flaw, really), but something I dislike is bad language. I hate cursing and bad language and even though it’s not gratuitous (this is how these characters would probably speak and it seems pretty true to life), I can’t not mention it here. If you are offended by cursing, swear words, drug use, and casual sex, then this book is not for you.

That said, the unevenness of the book is fully remedied by the passion Rowling has put into it. Knowing a bit about her history as a single welfare mom and her current philanthropic efforts, while reading this book I could see that this is a book that she really, really needed to write, and not a calculated decision to veer off the YA circuit (something I thought when this book was first published).

The book ending is also good, heart-rending but good. Personally, I would have preferred something a little more upbeat, but I have to say this ending works well too at resolving all the plot points.

I now look forward to reading her crime thriller novels now. She really has shown that she is more than a one-trick pony.

You can also purchase a copy of this book from Amazon

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  • I need to read this still and it would probably be my first read of Rowling. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Nish!

    • Nishita

      @melindapetersen:disqus really? This is your first Rowling? You really should try Harry Potter for the full Rowling experience though. This book is quite unlike her usual style.

  • I listened to this book on audio and really enjoyed it. Language, sex, and violence doesn’t generally bother me but for some reason (maybe weird expectations of Rowling?) it did put me off a little bit on this novel.

    That being said I thought it was fabulously done. I agree that it’s definitely not for everyone and I think that a lot of the bad reviews it received came from people looking for another Harry Potter.

    • Nishita

      @aprilthesteadfastreader:disqus it would be interesting to know how this book would have done without her famous name backing it. I think the reactions might be more objective. The book’s not bad at all, it’s just not what was expected coming from Rowling.


    I did not like the book. I found it extremely boring. 🙁 But the characters were interesting, but the story hardly had anything in it. Also there was no meaningful ending to those stories.

    • Nishita Yeah, it’s not a plot-based book. I too found the first 200 pages a bit slow, but once I got interested in the characters, it was smooth. It’s not an easy reading book.

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  • Five-Eyed Bookworm

    I think this will be a book I will want to read. I’ve read mixed reviews about it, also I’ve seen so many copies of it in the local bookstore. I suddenly like reading books that are character-driven, although before, I preferred reading books that are more plot-driven. I guess I’ve undergone some sort of reader transformation haha. I am really looking forward to reading The Cuckoo’s Calling and the first of the books in the Harry Potter series. Would you recommend them?

    • Nishita

      @fiveeyedbookworm:disqus The Harry Potter books? of course. The first couple of books are a bit childish, but the series really takes off from book 3 onwards.

      And The Casual Vacancy is a good read if you want to read something character-driven, as such the plot is nothing much, it’s the characters that make up this book.

  • dreamzandclouds

    Your review kind of puts me in a confusion – to read or not to read :/

    • Nishita

      @dreamzandclouds If you want something serious, pick it up. If you want something in the line of Harry Potter, or something light-hearted, leave it.

      It’s a good book, but not everyone will like it.

  • I read this book halfway in one day, took almost a yearlong break from it and completed the rest in another sitting. Weird, right? But it made me realize how impactful the characters and setting were, because I hadn’t forgotten a thing. Her Galbraith mystery was a much easier read, but I found The Casual Vacancy a fabulous comeback from Harry Potter! Completely different but just as hard-hitting. 🙂

    • Nishita

      @priyatabularasa:disqus you have an awesome memory. I would never have remembered the situations or the people. When I took a break of 3-4 days only I got confused.

  • Jenny @ Reading the End

    I couldn’t get on with this book at all, even though I do agree with you that this felt like a book Rowling needed to write. I just hated everyone in it, and it made it hard for me to keep reading. :/

    • Nishita

      @Jenny@Reading the End I remember your review still :). I actually went back and looked at it again yesterday. Yeah, the people weren’t very nice, but I didn’t mind that. I didn’t like the jerky way the story moved forward and the ending, which I am still very sad about 🙁

  • I must admit I didn’t find the flaw that you did…I read this book when it came out and finished it in one sitting and loved it! Yes, it’s sad and dark but to me, it mirrored reality. I guess it’s close to what I do for work and the teenagers in particular reminded me of several clients that I see and I could relate to the book. It had me in tears and made me laugh…I bow to Rowling! 😀 I had reviewed it too ages ago (

    • Nishita

      @PsychBabbler:disqus the flaw or plot point was all those kids hacking into that portal and writing anonymous stuff. It was interesting the first 2 times it happened, got incredibly annoying from them on.

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