...the very existence of The Casual Vacancy represents a truckload of moxie...At another level, this book represents a truckload of shrewdness. In her first grown-up novel, Rowling has chosen to construct her plot around a local municipal election... One man suffers an untimely death, the gossip mill churns... The storylines interweave as characters interfere with one another’s business. Nearly every character gets a narrative point of view ...Rowling re-traverses the Potter series’ entire tonal journey: a gradual darkening in which snide comments on small stakes give way to sharp commentary on big ones ... A lazy critic might coyly query whether The Casual Vacancy contains enough magic ... This book would be a little better if everyone were carrying wands.
...The Casual Vacancy is a different beast entirely... a big, ambitious, brilliant, profane, funny, very upsetting and magnificently eloquent novel of contemporary England, rich with literary intelligence and entirely bereft of bullshit... Her interest is in the emotional and social chasms that yawn between us and the grotesque emotional wounds we inflict on those on the other side, always in the belief that we’re acting in righteous self-defense ... Rowling, by contrast, shows off a new descriptive dexterity, an extra verbal gear that until now she kept in reserve... In Pagford, everybody believes they’re the hero of the story, but as the novel’s point of view restlessly shifts, we see each character recast again and again as villain, victim, fool, lover, ally, traitor ... The Casual Vacancy is, in a funny way, not so much an extension of the Harry Potter books as their negative image: it’s a painfully arbitrary and fallen world, a world that, bereft as it is of the magic that animates and ennobles Hogwarts, sags and cracks under its own weight.
If, however, you like your fiction plot-driven, dark, with a surfeit of melodrama, this novel is for you ...The Casual Vacancy is no masterpiece, but it is a good escape ... This novel is an epic soap opera: It's stuffed with revenge, sex, duplicity, violence, malignant gossip, drug addiction, self-mutilation, snobbery, cruelty, poverty and death ...a married, middle-aged father of four, Barry Fairbrother, drops dead of an aneurysm in a golf club parking lot. His death sets off a frenzy of scheming and leads to some rather disturbing events as well ... Meanwhile, as many of the adults in Pagford engage in increasingly repellent behavior, the adolescents are mired in dramas of their own ... As Rowling's narrative shifts among various families and characters, she exposes the misery that exists behind their finely painted front doors ... Some readers may feel put off by a story that is so relentlessly bleak, and one that offers such vicious character portraits ... Had The Casual Vacancy not built to a shrill, melodramatic climax, it would have been a more powerful work of fiction.
There are some superficial excitements here, in that the younger characters get up to things that Harry probably never dreamed of: taking drugs, swearing, self-harming, having grimy casual sex, singing along to Rihanna ...The Casual Vacancy is a solid, traditional and determinedly unadventurous English novel. Set in the 'pretty little town of Pagford', it is a study of provincial life, with a large cast and multiple, interlocking plots, drawing inspiration from Elizabeth Gaskell and George Eliot ...has all the satisfactions and frustrations of this kind of novel. It immerses the reader in a richly peopled, densely imagined world ... On the other hand, the novel is very much the prisoner of its conventions ... The plot is often predictable; it requires a large helping of artificial contrivance; and it lurches into melodrama in the final act ... The Casual Vacancy is no masterpiece, but it's not bad at all: intelligent, workmanlike, and often funny.
...an old-fashioned novel in the tradition of Dickens or his modern-day counterpart Jonathan Franzen (The Corrections, Freedom). There’s a spider web of connected characters, all making their own small threads as part of a larger tapestry of humanity ... The death of Barry Fairbrother (rhymes with Harry; certainly no coincidence) divides the small West Country town of Pagford ... Rowling rotates chapters among many characters’ points of view and brings the omniscient voice to play in large ensemble scenes where we jump from character to character, enjoying a panoramic view of the community and its individual, interrelated conflicts ... At times, the quaint setting and omniscient narrator lull the reader into a sense of being inside a storybook, a world as fictional and removed as Hogwarts ...there’s no denying that you have been told a story by someone who knows just what she’s doing.
Where Harry Potter was fantastical and epic, The Casual Vacancy is mundane and doggedly narrow, obsessed with the minutiae and pettiness that can make daily life a drudgery, a lonely, isolated trudge where the only sense of triumph comes through geographical or corporeal escape ... The Casual Vacancy is chockablock with characters who exist somewhere in the space between pitiable and contemptible. They’re a sprawling network of small-minded people, among whom neither a hero nor a villain emerges ...the book’s collectivist outlook presents all its characters as victims themselves in some way or another. Their misery is either their own doing, or others’, or society at large — usually a combination of all three ... It’s all but impossible to regard The Casual Vacancy completely independent of Rowling’s previous work, but she has gone to great lengths to facilitate such an evaluation ...admirably ambitious and manages to say a great deal within its extremely narrow focus, showing the sort of deep scars that can result from even the pettiest circumstances.
This serious, often dark and sometimes humorous novel is a tale of the inhabitants of the small, west England village of Pagford, similar to the one where Rowling grew up. She has brought them to life through a half-dozen middle-class families who share career, political and social ambitions ... Relationships between married couples, parents and their teenage children, and long-term friendships become frayed as the ghost of Barry Fairbrother seems to hover over the conscience of the village ... Rowling has turned her storytelling mastery to a subject that has made the book controversial in England. It is a story of the clash between classes and is very British in its view of the haves versus the have-nots ... Will The Casual Vacancy by an author of the stature of J.K. Rowling compare? Only time will tell.
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 ... 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 ... 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 ...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 ... 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).
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 ... There’s a massive divide between the haves and the have-nots — the residents of the Fields, the council flats that some want to push off onto a neighboring county council ... 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 ... 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.