Book Review: The Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling

The Casual Vacancy by J. K. RowlingI think there are two types of readers of this book: those who loved Harry Potter and will read just about anything by J. K. Rowling. I think they’ll be disappointed, at least, if contemporary fiction isn’t normally a genre they read. Others, like me, are not overly interested in the fact that Rowling wrote the Harry Potter series, and cautiously dip into the book after maybe reading a review or two.

There are also contemporary fiction readers who don’t expect a fantasy author to write a decent piece of fiction. They aren’t planning to read the book. To them I say: forget Harry Potter, this is a very good book!

The Casual Vacancy: What it is about

From the publishers: “When Barry Fairbrother dies in his early forties, the town of Pagford is left in shock.

Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, but what lies behind the pretty facade is a town at war. Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils… Pagford is not what it first seems.

And the empty seat left by Barry on the parish council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen. Who will triumph in an election fraught with passion, duplicity and unexpected revelations?”

The Casual Vacancy: What I thought

I absolutely loved this book! I love books about England, maybe because I lived there myself for 15 years. This was so recognisable.

There were quite a few characters and it took a while to remember who was who (I wrote down most of the names and their interconnections at first, but didn’t need this list after a few more chapters). Except for two men, Andrew’s and Stuart’s fathers, I found them all to be unique enough to keep them apart.

There were some fun and some sad things going on in the book. For instance, someone is putting anonymous and libellous messages on the council website message board with great consequences for the people involved. The reader knows who is doing this and while at first, it’s a fun and exciting thing to do, soon it becomes clear what disastrous effects it has.

Very realistic and very sad was the situation that 16 year old Krystal and her little 3 year old brother were in: their mother a drug addict, they were left to fend for themselves most of the time. Social services were on the case and at the ready to take the children into care, but Krystal tried whatever she could to keep her mother clean so the little family could stay together, albeit in dire circumstances (Krystal’s bedroom furnishings: mattress on the floor, small pile of clothes in a corner. Full stop.)

This particular family’s language was rather poor. With an almost non-existent education, they had a small and incorrect vocabulary. For instance, they say “Gerroff!” for “Get off!”, “intcha?” for “aren’t you?” etc. For people outside Britain, this maybe a little difficult to follow at times. However, this family doesn’t actually talk a lot, so it’s not a big issue.

The loyalties and feuds between the different families in the small town were interesting to read about and are not so clear-cut as at first it seemed.

This was a very enjoyable read, very British, and well-written.

Rating: 5 (out of 5)

Number of pages: 504

First published: 2012

I got this book: bought it in my almost-local bookstore

Genre: contemporary fiction


Have you read this book?

What did you think?


About Leeswammes
I'm owner and editor at In my free time, I read and review books on my two blogs, Leeswammes' Blog and De Boekblogger.

25 Responses to Book Review: The Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling

  1. Mystica says:

    I liked it that you loved it! I’ve read so many so so reviews I was sad about this!

    • Leeswammes says:

      I think it’s a fine book, Mystica. As I say, maybe Potter fans won’t be so happy, but if you’re looking at the book in its own right, it’s very good.

  2. You’re the first person to persuade me to give this a try. I thought everyone was reading it just because of Harry Potter, but if it is good in its own right I’ll give it a try.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Jackie, I think the book is up there with other modern British writers. I can’t make up my mind whether I’d say it’s literary, but not far off in any case. And so recognisable if you live in England!

  3. Charlie says:

    Glad you liked it! I think it’d be easier to leave it alone from HP if it weren’t written in the same style.

  4. Jenifer S. says:

    Wonderful!! I have The Casual Vacancy on my to-be-read list. I have so been looking forward to this book and had wondered if many of the negative reviews were because people had expected an adult version of HP.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Jenifer, I hope you’ll enjoy the book. I’m not sure what people expected, but reading it just because they liked/loved HP is definitely not a good reason.

  5. I’m glad you liked it Judith, because I am going to read this next week. I was a big Potter fan, still am, actually, but I now that this will be completely different.

  6. Roxanne says:

    I have put it on my to read list. Not just because of JK Rowling, but also because I have read a couple of reviews. Even though not all of them were positive (like you said, some people expect Harry Potter) the story sounds interesting to me!

    • Leeswammes says:

      Roxanne, yes, don’t read the book because Rowling wrote Harry Potter, read it because it sounds interesting and you’d still be interested if it were written by K. P. Fowler (I just made up that name).

  7. debbierodgers says:

    Wow – this is the first 5 star review I’ve seen of this book. I just might give it a try!

    • Leeswammes says:

      Debbie, I think the book is highly British so maybe some of the other reviewers weren’t from England? I have no idea how much enjoyment no-Bristish will get out of this. I’m not saying you have to have lived there to enjoy the book, though. It’s just that I recognised so much.

  8. Carole says:

    Hi there, the December edition of Books You Loved is open for entries. Here is the link Books You Loved December Edition Please do pop by and link in a post about a book you loved. Maybe this one? Cheers

  9. JoV says:

    Because you said it’s good, I’m going to give it a go. The review has been mixed but I suppose it may be the British context that some ppl may not get it. init? 😉

    • Leeswammes says:

      I think that’s exactly it, Jo. But I can’t be sure and maybe they don’t realise that that is indeed the problem. I need to read more reviews of the book and e.g., do a tally of likers/dislikers crossed with British/non-British reviewers (I count myself as British in this case, as I live in Britain for a long time).

  10. Interesting review, Judith. I’ve heard really mixed reviews on this one, but I’m still dying to read it! I definitely read with a British “sensibility”, so I think it would probably appeal to me.

  11. Katrien says:

    I didn’t plan on reading this book, as I read some negative reviews about it. A lot of peaple found the plot rather complicated. I’m not really a fantasy fan, so perhaps, after reading your review, I should give it a try.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Katrien, this book has nothing to do with fantasy so in that sense, it’s good for you. The plot wasn’t too complicated but there were quite a few people so it was hard to keep them apart. I’m not sure I can recommend it to you, though. Maybe try a few chapters and see what you think.

  12. Athira says:

    I started reading this one a month ago but it happened to be at a very busy time so I never got to more than 15 pages. I loved those few pages though, so at some point, I want to get back to the book.

  13. Pingback: Casual Vacancy by J K Rowling – Farm Lane Books Blog

I love comments! Let me know what you think.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: