Review by Booklist Review
J. K. Rowling has said that she considered writing The Casual Vacancy under a pseudonym. Had she done so, Rowling probably would have learned what it's like to be a midlist author unpublicized, unnoticed, and unhappy. Like many midlist titles, this one is perfectly fine, but in no way outstanding. Set in Pagford, a picturesque West Country village, this very British book has a clever, if arcane, centerpiece: a casual vacancy, an opening on the village council. When Barry Fairbrother drops dead of an aneurysm, his death sets off a chain reaction. A strong supporter of keeping a poor council estate as part of Pagford (he grew up there), Fairbrother is opposed by a smug, controlling businessman (Vernon Dursley, writ small) who wants to rid the village of the undesirables. Fairbrother's demise causes a crisis at the council and in the personal lives of many, including a teenager to whom he gave a helping hand. As everyone knows, Rowling is very good at creating worlds, and here she effectively shows the stifling (for some) and satisfying (for others) constraints of village life. Somewhat less successful are her characters, who wouldn't seem out of place in a British soap opera: not surprisingly, it's her several teen characters, the tortured and the torturers, who jump most from the page. As for her prose, well, that was never Rowling's strong suit, and it lumbers more than it soars. To give credit where it's due, one of the world's richest women wrote her book and is willing to take the critical lumps when she didn't have to do anything more than stay home and count her money. She must like to write.--Cooper, Ilene Copyright 2010 Booklist
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
On the face of it, Rowling's first adult book is very different from the Harry Potter books that made her rich and famous. It's resolutely unmagical: the closest thing to wizardry is the ability to hack into the amateurish Pagford Parish Council Web site. Instead of a battle for worldwide domination, there's a fight over a suddenly empty seat on that Council, the vacancy of the title. Yet despite the lack of invisibility cloaks and pensieves, Pagford isn't so different from Harry's world. There's a massive divide between the haves and those pesky have-nots-the residents of the Fields, the council flat that some want to push off onto Yarvil, the county council nearby. In tiny Pagford, and at its school, which caters to have and have-nots alike, everyone is connected: teenager Krystal Weedon, the sole functioning member of her working-class family, hooks up with the middle-class son of her guidance counselor; the social worker watching over Krystal's troubled mother dates the law partner of the son of the dead Councilor's fiercest Council rival, who also happens to be the best friend of Councilor Barry Fairbrother; Krystal's great-grandmother's doctor was Fairbrother's closest ally; the daughters of the doctor and the social worker work together, along with the best friend of Krystal's hookup; and so on. When Fairbrother-born in Fields but now a middle-class Pagforder and one of the few people who can deal with the obstreperous Krystal-dies suddenly, the fight gets uglier. Rowling is relentlessly competent: all these people and their hatreds and hopes are established and mixed together. Secrets are revealed, relationships twist and break, and the book rolls toward its awful, logical climax with aplomb. As in the Harry Potter books, children make mistakes and join together with a common cause, accompanied here by adults, some malicious, some trying yet failing. Minus the magic, though, good and evil are depressingly human, and while the characters are all well drawn and believable, they aren't much fun. Agent: The Blair Partnership. (Sept. 27) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review
Overlong and bereft of the rich brocade of invention that made "Harry Potter," well, magical, Rowling's latest novel might seem to have the critical deck stacked against it, but this, her first "book for adults," is made of stronger stuff. It tells the story of a small English town, Pagford, which loses, in the novel's first pages, one of its lynchpins: father, friend, rowing instructor, and council member Barry Fairbrother. Across the wide scope of Rowling's story, Fairbrother is the common thread, as some characters cope with his absence and others use his name to enact personal vendettas. The cast is, unsurprisingly, large, and Rowling excels with her teenage characters-who are vivid and mercurial in her hands-where the adults are often thick and one-note. She doesn't shy away from the material noticeably absent in her YA series-i.e., sex, drugs, and religion-and overall her frankness is refreshing, though there are several moments that clunk, thud, and bewilder (many of which will prompt laughter). Verdict Still, Rowling is a storyteller, and this book is no exception to her powers. Though slow to start, it has the momentum to carry readers through to the end, and they will be glad they stayed with it. A rewarding read; recommended. [See Rowling Goes Adult.-Ed.]-Molly McArdle, Library Journal (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review
Harry Potter's mommy has a potty mouth. The wires have been abuzz for months with the news that Rowling was writing a new book--and this one a departure from her Potter franchise, a book for grown-ups. The wait was worth it, and if Rowling's focus remains on tortured adolescents (as if there were any other kind), they're teenagers trapped without any magic whatsoever in a world full of Muggles. There's some clef in this roman, magic or not: The setting is a northerly English town full of council estates and leafy garden suburbs inhabited by people who, almost without exception, are not very happy and really not very likable. While a special election is in the offing, they do the usual things: They smoke and drink and masturbate, and they say and think things along the lines of "Like fuck he does, the cunt," and when they're lucky, they have sex, or at least cop a feel, best when a young woman named Krystal is involved. Ah, Krystal, a piece of work both nasty and beguiling: "She knew no fear, like the boys who came to school with tattoos they had inked themselves, with split lips and cigarettes, and stories of clashes with the police, of taking drugs and easy sex." Sometimes, as with the figure who opens the piece, Rowling's characters die--and, as with the American Henry James' oh-so-English novel The Spoils of Poynton, when they do, they set things in motion. Other times, they close things up but never neatly. The reader will be surprised at some of Rowling's victims and the ways she chooses to dispose of them, but this is less a book about mayhem than about the grimness of most lives. It is skillfully, often even elegantly written, and though its cast of characters is large and its thrills and spills few, Rowling manages to keep the story tied together and moving along nicely. Even so, it's difficult to find much purchase among some of her characters, particularly the tough, poor ones who live on the edge of town, and it often seems that Rowling doesn't like them much either. In all, when they're not sneaking off to Yarvil for relief, the residents of Pagford are Hobbesian through and through: rich hate poor, and poor hate rich; Indians hate Anglos, and Anglos hate Indians; and everyone hates the meddlesome middle-class do-gooders with suggestive names like Fairbrother who try to make things better. A departure and a revelation, though the story is dark and doesn't offer much in the way of redemption (or, for that matter, much in the way of laughs). Still, this Rowling person may have a career as a writer before her.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.