Review Blog

Nov 13 2012

The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

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Little, Brown, 2012. ISBN 9781408704202.
(Age: Senior secondary - adult). Topping bestseller lists and in prime position in bookshops, how good is J.K Rowling's, A Casual Vacancy and does it warrant such attention? And of what appeal does it have to young adult readers?
Most Australians, especially YA readers, would not be interested in this book when hearing that the plot is about a vacancy on an English parish council. Charismatic councillor, Barry Fairbrother has dropped dead and the two council factions are trying to fill his vacancy. Built from this rather dull-sounding plot outline, however, is a wickedly constructed, contemporary tragi-farce. Depending on the view of different characters, Barry is either a hero or a disengaged, possibly devious, cipher. He is devoted to helping disadvantaged young people, especially Krystal Weedon from the notorious adjoining housing estate, the Fields. The differing opinions about Barry are representative of the novel's style. There are, not only different perspectives on characters, but also an array of viewpoints. This is one of the strengths of Rowling's writing and is also an entry point into the book for younger readers. We are given insight into the jaded lives of Barry's peers, the parents of older teenagers, but we also hear the absorbing versions of their children's angst, betrayals and tentative hopes. At school, home and in the claustrophobic community we learn about the secret life of teens, most of whom engage in extreme behaviours of self-harm, online intimidation, manipulative sex or explicit drug taking. Fats Wall is the intelligent son of the deputy headmaster and school counsellor. In trying to find authenticity he experiments and destroys. His mate, Andrew, is obsessed with his fantasies about new girl, Gaia, but has an innate decency in spite of his abusive father. Krystal loves her young brother, Robbie, but how can she protect him from her prostitute, addict mother?
Mature young adults will be interested in reading about the, ideally vicarious, experiences of Rowling's young characters. The author has a readymade YA readership because of Harry Potter and she capitalises on this with her storytelling prowess, albeit now clearly for the adult market, to keep their loyalty.
Joy Lawn

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