“You’re a wizard Ha-” oh sorry wrong book. If the Harry Potter series is the first thought that jumps to your brain when you heard the words J.K Rowling, then you definitely aren’t alone. By far her most well-known work, J.K Rowling is basically a household name at this point. And so everyone was fairly skeptical when she wrote a book about… well, the real world. And boy oh boy does it get real.
The novel focuses on the town of Pagford in the UK, and the drama that unfolds in it. When a city councilor unexpected dies (no, this is not a murder mystery), his death leaves a ‘casual vacancy’ on the city council, and the book details the lead up to the election to replace him. It hones in on a couple of families in the town, some with seats on the council already, others with ambitions to run for council, with both adults and children having their own points of view. However, things begin to go awry when a ‘ghost’ begins to bring secrets to light about some of the candidates to fill the casual vacancy. When ensues is a character study of some really really interesting and heart breaking characters, and a commentary on human decency and responsibility.
First things first, this novel does an excellent job of showing the generational gap between parents and children. In some cases, the perceived apathy of parents towards their children is what drives a wedge in their relationship. In others it is downright abuse and terrorism. In others its a lack of empathy on the child’s side to see their parent’s side of the story. The novel doesn’t pull punches on any of the characters, instead choosing to demonstrate the wide variety of relationships that exist between a parent and their children, both the good and the bad, and how sometimes we’re too close to something to see the truth of the matter.
Another thing that I really loved about this novel was it’s handling of class issues and addiction. At the heart of the novel is the struggle of a handful of the characters to keep the funding for a subdivision, and by extension an addiction clinic. RowlingI think treats these characters with the utmost respect. In the novel, the drug users are painted as multidimensional characters, and while some characters look down on them as users, others understand that addiction is an illness and very difficult to overcome (much like the real world). This, alongside her treatment of lower socioecomonic class families, shows her desire to portray these people with dignity and respect, and not treat them as caricatures or stereotypes.
I think the point of this novel was really to focus on the characters, which is what really draws peoples eye. And I think Rowling does this perfectly, because some of the characters I could not stand to the point where reading their POV’s were so difficult but I couldn’t put it down because something about them was still intriguing. What still shocks me is how much I came to love the POVs of Samantha, Krystal and Kay, but especially Samantha.
The ending really caught me off guard with how tragic it was. Just a warning, there is suicide depicted in the novel, and also self harm. I nearly cried at the ending, not going to lie. And while it could seem that the suicide was a plot device, I think that it was also very in character and fit with the situation described (not that I think suicide should ever be considered good or ‘fitting’ – all I’m saying is that this wasn’t purely a plot device or for shock value). How some of these characters, particular Samantha and Sukhvinder, responded to this person’s death kind of gave me hope for the characters, while others just highlighted how low people can be brought by this type of grief.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book. It kind of snuck up on me in that I didn’t think that I would enjoy it that much, but by the end I couldn’t put it down. As always, my friend Laura knows me better than I know myself sometimes and I really thank her for her awesome suggestions <3.
Thats all for now ducks, I’ll be back soon with some more bookish content! Have a great week
If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts or is self harming, please reach out to one of these organizations:
National suicide prevention hotline (US): 1-800-273-8255
Kids Help Phone (CAN): 1-800-668-6868
Suicide Prevention & Support (CAN): 1-833-456-4566
List of crisis lines found here.