Rowling’s ‘Vacancy’ Lacks Magic

Courtesy of MSNBC

When it was announced that J.K. Rowling was working on a new book geared towards adults, it was exciting. In “The Casual Vacancy,” she abandons all that readers loved about the wizarding world of Harry Potter, and writes about muggles. This is not meant to instill a wizard-muggle hierarchy, but only a wish that Rowling had not used up so many words on the likes of Petunia, Vernon and Dudley Dursley, and all the humdrum inhabitants of Privet Drive.

Set in the small village of Pagford, England, the book examines the delicate relationships between the inhabitants and the tensions that arise from living in a confined community.

Barry Fairbrother holds a seat on the town council, a crucial position when determining local politics. After he suffers a brain aneurysm and dies in the middle of a golf club parking lot, the town is left unprepared for the problems it would imbue.

Howard Mollison, head of the town council and a proud owner of the local delicatessen, opposed Fairbrother’s views of adopting “The Fields,” a run-down conglomeration of houses, as part of Pagford’s jurisdiction and therefore, responsibility. Mollison hopes to induct someone, without election, to fill “the casual vacancy” left by Fairbrother’s death.

While Howard discretely celebrates Fairbrother’s death and the political advantage it gives him, others weep for Fairbrother. Rowling made a conscious effort to begin the story with a cold opening − death. This crystallized the already inherent conflicts between the inhabitants and allowed for the characters to respond passionately, to bring their most extreme selves forward.

This heartfelt mourning brings to light some of the characters’ frustrations about their lives, the inadequacy of what they have achieved and their deteriorating personal relationships.

Rowling capitalizes on internal monologue for each character, so that what is seemingly “idyllic” on the outside about Pagford is immediately contrasted by the disenchantment reflected in their thoughts. This, however, does not make for a consistent read, as the point of view is constantly changing with each chapter. Furthermore, the characters’ narrative voices are not distinct enough in style for the reader to ascertain whose point of view it is.

Granted, Rowling does tackle denser issues such as domestic violence, child neglect and drug use. Indeed, she handles the topic of sex throughout and attributes profane language to her characters’ everyday vocabulary. Rowling, however, does not add to the conversation, but revisits a storyline that we’ve read before, especially in the character of Krystal Wheedon.

With “The Casual Vacancy,” Rowling emphasizes that the novel is grounded in reality, not fantasy. It is unfair to expect the flickering of wands and the riding of brooms. It is expected that she would continue her ability to weave incredible arcs in story and create charming characters with timeless insights despite the genre change, both of which are lacking in this novel.

Final Rating: 2.5/5