J. K. Rowling has a way of creating fictional worlds that feel reel and filling them with characters that seem to take on a life of their own. The plot is almost beside the point… but by the time The Casual Vacancy comes to a close, it’s hard not to feel something for the cast of mostly unlikable characters as the consequences of their actions (and inactions) unfold.
While the Harry Potter stories were told largely through the eyes of one character, in The Casual Vacancy, Rowling puts us into the heads of virtually every major character… and those heads aren’t particularly pleasant places to be. The fictional town of Pagford is filled with self-centered residents who are invariably incapable of empathizing with those around them.
The narrative deals loosely with intrigue on the local council as folks debate whether or not the poor neighborhood that sprouted up adjacent to their little town should be the responsibility of Pagford or of the larger city over the hill.
But really The Casual Vacancy is an exercise in exploring how a bunch of self-centered individuals can have a profound impact on one another’s lives without necessarily realizing it… so in that sense, I suppose it’s a somewhat realistic, if very pessimistic tale.
It’s also a demonstration that Rowling knows how to keep you turning the page to find out what happens next, even when there’s no magic involved.