When I first heard the synopsis of “The Casual Vacancy,” I have to admit I was a little disappointed. A council election gone awry in a small English village? What could be exciting about that? But it’s J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books that are so dear to my heart. So I gave it a try. I was not disappointed.
Rowling’s first novel for adults is a far cry from Harry and his pals, so do not go into this book expecting magic and friendship to conquer all. Rowling depicts the brutality that comes with power and prejudice, and the characters and drama she portrays are simply too real for comfort. At least with Harry’s nemesis, Voldemort, readers could point to the dark arts as reason for his cruelty, but the vicious and thoughtless acts committed by the all-too-human characters of “The Casual Vacancy” cannot be excused. These acts are made all the more disturbing by the mere frequency with which they occur in real life. The relentless bullying of the young Sukhvinder Jawanda, the merciless gossip of the elderly Shirley Mollison, the daily struggles of Krystle Weedon, daughter of a heroin-addict, and the spiteful marriage of Miles and Samantha Mollison are the types of real tragedies that occur daily behind closed doors.
As Rowling weaves the tangled webs of the various Pagford and Yarvil families, and each of the characters’ flaws, secrets, and fears are revealed, you find yourself wondering how the stories will intertwine. But Rowling deftly ties the many strands of the small villages together, and tension escalates into a perfect storm of tragedy. Be sure to have your tissues ready, because this one will leave you *almost* as heartbroken as the final farewells of Harry Potter.