First Read: J.K. Rowling post-Potter

It’s been a long time coming, five years in fact, since the final installment of the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows, was released. But on Sept. 27, the author of those books, J.K. Rowling, released her first novel for adults entitled The Casual Vacancy.

The Causal Vacancy details the thoughts, feelings, and lives of the residents of the small British city of Pagford after Barry Fairbrother, a prominent resident on the city’s council, dies suddenly. The book chronicles how the townspeople are dealing with his death while trying to sort through their thoughts and emotions regarding their personal lives.

Rowling does her best to convey that Vacancy is an adult book. Every curse word imaginable is littered throughout the pages while residents of Pagford deal with marital problems, drug addiction, prostitution and rape. In contrast, there are vivid descriptions of teenagers recalling their sexual encounters with others and one another.

There are so many characters in Vacancy that it’s almost hard to keep track. Within the first 50 pages the reader is introduced to over 20 different people. All of these people live in the same town so not only does the reader need to keep track of them, but it’s vital to know all of the different relationships between each of them. Each of the first few chapters introduces a new family and uses first person point of view to reveal their thoughts and emotions in the aftermath of councilman Fairbrother’s untimely death. This is difficult at first but ones most of the new characters are introduced they fall into place quite well and their different personalities make them easier to distinguish from one another.

It would make sense for this to have been done on purpose so that all of the different families would be introduced soon enough to set the story. This way, the book can focus on everyone’s ever-changing relationships with one another and themselves. Rowling does a great job in making all of the characters in the book are relatable. Everyone knows a problem child in their neighborhood, or the couple with the seemingly perfect life, or even someone struggling with drug addiction. Rowling makes these characters come to life and relatable without going completely over the top.

Overall, the book is can be rather tedious at times. It takes a while for main events to take place and nothing really seems to happen in between; just a bunch of gossip between neighbors. On the other hand, gossip is used effectively as a literary device. It does a great job of setting the character’s different personalities and feelings for one another in stone. It’s necessary for the progression of the story as different events take place, yet it becomes a necessary evil at times. Vacancy takes you on a journey that could easily take place in the reader’s own backyard and could possibly make them think about what their neighbors think of them or what their lives would be like if similar circumstances had befallen them. A solid, but not great book that is relatable yet with a little too much
information to take in.