J.K. Rowling's first novel for adults, The Casual Vacancy, had a mixed reception from both critics and from the Harry Potter Fan Club. A strange setting, some might have thought - revolving around the
Pagford Parish Council and a battle between two factions within the village. And certainly not the language one had come to expect from the Wizard of Hogwarts.
Barry Fairbrother falls down dead on page 5 he sets the wheels in motion for a Parish Council election, at the heart of which will be all he has worked for in terms of bringing the warring factions of Pagford together. All through the book the reader
cannot help but wonder what would have happened if Barry hadn't died so unexpectedly on page 5. Most of all,we wonder what difference it would have made to poor, doomed Krystal Weedon, the "bad girl", desperately trying to keep her dysfunctional family
together, whose talent as a rower Barry worked hard to foster.
Knowing something about local government, I winced at some of the obvious errors in this tale of
a parish council at war - the book is not as well-researched as it might seem though I doubt that will worry many readers. The strong language throughout will shock some - I can imagine parents hiding the book from their
sons and daughters.
Reviewers have made much of Rowling's depiction of the smug, middle class Pagford stalwarts and certainly most of the characters are not particularly likeable on the surface.
However this is a book about secrets and at the heart of the book are the secrets that almost every one of the characters harbours. It is in understanding the secrets that the reader comes to understand (if not to like) the characters.
I cried at the end. One review I read said the main problem with The Casual Vacancy is that, unlike in the Harry Potter novels, there is no hope of redemption, no magic
wand to dispel the evil. Certainly there is no sense that everyone will "live happily ever after."
But the fact that I cried meant I cared. That must count for