A beloved author’s return to the page: “The Casual Vacancy”

Kyle Elphick

July 21, 2007.  This is a date that will forever be branded into the minds of children and adults alike all across America and the world.  For on this day, JK Rowling’s fantasy epic, the Harry Potter Saga, came to a conclusion through its seventh and final volume.  Though the day was originally met with midnight release parties, all-day reading, and various other celebrations, it began to stand as a day people looked back on with a sense of sadness.  Did that day 5 years ago mark the final release of novels by the now highly respected and beloved JK Rowling?  Recently though, it was learned that that day did not mark such an occasion, as Rowling finally returned with the release of her first novel for adults.  On September 27, 2012, “The Casual Vacancy” hit bookstore shelves across the world.

The book itself does not focus on witches, wizards, and a magical school but on a small town in a contemporary and modern England named Pagford, and the local political election that rocks it.  The events of the novel are set into the motion by the death of a town councilor named Barry Fairbrother, his sudden passing leaving a “casual vacancy” in the town’s governing parish council.  A war breaks out in the town over the man or woman who will replace him on the council, with the tensions and stakes heightening as the improvised special election draws nearer and nearer.  However, things take a drastic turn for the worst when the dirtiest and darkest secrets of each of the candidates in the election are revealed in an online forum for the entire town to see.  Along with the politically charged main plot of the book, the themes of drug use, rape, young love, and prostitution are explored by Rowling through her expressive words and ideas.

Before time was even given for the writers of any major news publication to begin to tap out their initial reviews and impressions of the book, The Casual Vacancy was already flying off of store shelves, both of the real and digital variety.  The book broke the top 15 of most popular books sold over the course of the whole year a single week after its release.  It topped one million copies sold in its English edition in all of the major countries where it was sold, including these United States of America.  The book found special success in Rowling’s own home country of the United Kingdom, where it had the second best opening sales week of all time for any book ever released in that nation.

Though readers across the world didn’t wait for Rowling’s critic’s opinions of her latest work, the now released reviews wouldn’t have decreased its sales remotely.  Publications such as The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal, and Time all heralded the book as one of the year’s best, praising Rowling’s skill to create a living, breathing English town and populating it with characters that any reader could strongly relate to and connect with.  As Lev Grossman of Time specifically said in a glowing review, “The Casual Vacancy” is, “big, ambitious, brilliant, profane, funny, deeply upsetting and a magnificently eloquent novel of contemporary England, rich with literary intelligence…”

The success of “The Casual Vacancy” is a great achievement for JK Rowling and readers everywhere.  For Rowling, for she has now proved that she is a writer that can move beyond flying broomsticks and dragons and craft a story for adults that can be just as if not more satisfying than her stories for children.  For readers, because they have received the gift of another Rowling novel that takes them not to a magical world of wizardry, but to a common town just as intriguing. After all this great success, many would assume that the announcement of a visual adaptation of the book would be quick to come.  And, this assumption would be correct, as the BBC plans to release a television adaptation of the novel come 2014.  Rowling herself will have close ties to the production.