The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

63%

54 Critic Reviews

A thoughtful edit might have removed many of the stylistic slippages...there might have been a good, possibly even great, 300-page social novel inside the 500-page tear-­jerker we have instead. Let’s hope it will be different next time.
-NY Times

Synopsis

When Barry Fairweather dies unexpectedly in his early forties, the little 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 façade 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 town’s 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?

Photo credit: © Wall to Wall Media Ltd. Photographer: Andrew Montgomery.
 

About J.K. Rowling

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J.K. Rowling is the author of the bestselling Harry Potter series of seven books, published between 1997 and 2007, which have sold over 450 million copies worldwide, are distributed in more than 200 territories, have been translated into 73 languages, and have been turned into eight blockbuster films. As well as an Order of the British Empire for services to children's literature, J.K. Rowling is the recipient of numerous awards and honorary degrees, including the Prince of Asturias Award for Concord, France's Légion d'honneur, and the Hans Christian Andersen Award, and she has been a commencement speaker at Harvard University. She supports a wide range of causes and is the founder of Lumos, which works to transform the lives of disadvantaged children.
 
Published September 27, 2012 by Little Brown. 503 pages
Genres: Other, Humor & Entertainment, Literature & Fiction, Political & Social Sciences. Fiction
Bestseller Status:
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Peak Rank on Oct 14 2012
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Weeks as Bestseller
Bookmark Counts:
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Critic reviews for The Casual Vacancy
All: 54 | Positive: 30 | Negative: 24

Kirkus

Above average
Reviewed by Kirkus Reviews on Oct 01 2012

A departure and a revelation, though the story is dark and doesn't offer much in the way of redemption (or, for that matter, much in the way of laughs). Still, this Rowling person may have a career as a writer before her.

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Guardian

Good
Reviewed by Melvyn Bragg on Sep 29 2012

One mark of Rowling's determination to get to the nerve of reality in this book is her vigorous use of industrial language. Fs are everywhere, Cs are not withheld. But it never feels gratuitous.

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Guardian

Above average
Reviewed by Theo Tait on Sep 28 2012

...the narrative requires a fair amount of artificial contrivance, is a little a predictable, and lurches into melodrama in the final straight...

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Guardian

Below average
Reviewed by Theo Tait on Sep 26 2012

The plot is often predictable; it requires a large helping of artificial contrivance; and it lurches into melodrama in the final act.

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NY Times

Below average
Reviewed by Amanda Foreman on Oct 26 2012

A thoughtful edit might have removed many of the stylistic slippages...there might have been a good, possibly even great, 300-page social novel inside the 500-page tear-­jerker we have instead. Let’s hope it will be different next time.

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NY Times

Below average
Reviewed by Michiko Kakutani on Sep 27 2012

What’s missing here is an emotional depth of field. It’s not just because the stakes in this novel are so much smaller...It’s that the characters in “The Casual Vacancy” feel so much less fully imagined than the ones in the Harry Potter epic.

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Wall Street Journal

Excellent
Reviewed by MEGHAN GURDON on Sep 27 2012

Once you get your Mileses and Simonses straight and events begin to unfurl, it becomes a positively propulsive read. "The Casual Vacancy" may not be George Eliot, but it's J.K. Rowling; and that's pretty good.

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NY Journal of Books

Below average
Reviewed by Carolyn Haley on Sep 27 2012

There is not one ray of sunshine in The Casual Vacancy. Okay, there are a few milky glimmerings at the end and occasional veiled zingers raise a sardonic smile but do not add levity. The Casual Vacancy is grim, grim, grim...

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Toronto Star

Good
Reviewed by Nathan Whitlock on Nov 23 2012

Though the novel doesn’t live up to the hype (what could?), it is far from a face-plant, and shows that Rowling can do just fine without wizard or wand in sight.

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LA Times

Below average
Reviewed by David Ulin on Sep 26 2012

Rowling clearly knows how to create a universe that's compelling, consuming even, but Pagford is no such place.

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Globe and Mail

Below average
Reviewed by Sandra Martin on Sep 27 2012

...a mishmash of cardboard characters, a convoluted yet preposterous plot, cartoonish marital discord, paralyzing generational divides, transparent conspiracies, an epidemic of personality disorders, and stereotypical conflicts...

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LA Times

Below average
Reviewed by David Ulin on Sep 26 2012

Rowling too is casually cruel to her characters, giving them problems they can't surmount and then turning their lives from bad to worse, like John Irving in overdrive. Is this a failure of the imagination? Maybe. Rowling clearly knows how to create a universe that's compelling, consuming even, but Pagford is no such place.

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Entertainment Weekly

Above average
Reviewed by Rob Runner on Oct 05 2012

When the novel finally arrives at its predictable and heavy-handed ending, what started as a lively comedy of manners has turned into an overwrought slog.

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The Washington Post

Excellent
Reviewed by Monica Hesse on Sep 27 2012

There were incidents I immediately reread because the developments were surprising or genuinely moving. There were characters that I liked, then disliked, then liked again with reservations.

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AV Club

Above average
Reviewed by Genevieve Koski on Oct 01 2012

The Casual Vacancy is admirably ambitious and manages to say a great deal within its extremely narrow focus, showing the sort of deep scars that can result from even the pettiest circumstances.

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The Telegraph

Below average
Reviewed by John Preston on Sep 28 2012

The big emotional chords Rowling clearly intends to strike don’t resonate quite as much as they should, and some of her analogies are very peculiar...It’s also too long.

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The Telegraph

Above average
Reviewed by Allison Pearson on Sep 27 2012

The Casual Vacancy, JK Rowling’s first adult novel, is sometimes funny, often startlingly well observed, and full of cruelty and despair.

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USA Today

Below average
Reviewed by Deirdre Donahue on Sep 27 2012

Rowling lets her agenda drive not just the plot but the characters. The ones who come alive are those sympathetic to "the Fields," i.e., liberals. Those who criticize the residents, i.e., conservatives, are cliched variations of Harry Potter's Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia.

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Huffington Post

Good
Reviewed by T. Sher Singh on Oct 11 2012

I think this is a landmark book for us. From a social engineering perspective, it changes things in the story-telling about Sikhs for ever -- by moving it several notches higher.

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The Boston Globe

Above average
Reviewed by Chelsey Philpot on Oct 05 2012

The story spirals into melodrama in the final sections, culminating in tragedies that a number of characters had a chance to prevent. The ending is even darker than the beginning; there’s a dash of absurdity, but no resolution.

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Express

Good
Reviewed by Emma Lee-Potter on Sep 27 2012

Some readers will be shocked at Rowling’s departure from wizardry and magic but The Casual Vacancy is a highly readable morality tale for our times.

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Pajiba

Good
Reviewed by Narfna on Oct 17 2012

Ultimately, this was a really well-written book that appealed more to the side of me that can appreciate "literature" and enjoys literary criticism than the other side of me that prefers lots of made-up s**t and fairy beasts and spaceships and junk all over the place.

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The Daily Beast

Excellent
Reviewed by Malcolm Jones on Sep 27 2012

One thing that hasn’t changed: she still knows how to write an insanely compelling page-turner.

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Tampa Bay Times

Excellent
Reviewed by Colette Bancroft on Sep 28 2012

In The Casual Vacancy, she sails right into those sometimes hilarious, sometimes heartbreaking hinterlands. It's a trip worth making.

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About.com

Above average
Reviewed by Mark Flanagan on Sep 06 2013

There are no stereotypes here; each of Rowling's characters displays the depth of a real human, someone you remember from childhood, someone you shudder to think about.

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Salon

Good
Reviewed by Laura Miller on Sep 28 2012

“The Casual Vacancy” is an unforgiving novel. With it Rowling summons her formidable narrative skills to issue an indictment of contemporary British society, for which the provincial Pagford stands.

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The Sydney Morning Herald

Good
Reviewed by Kerryn Goldsworthy on Oct 04 2012

The central message of this novel is that we are indeed our brothers' keepers: we should take better care of each other. And that, surely, is a lesson any parents worth the name would be glad to have their children learn.

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People

Excellent
Reviewed by Elizabeth Gleick on Sep 27 2012

Rowling captures the humanity in everyone, even if that humanity is not always a pretty sight. And – though creating Harry Potter was more than enough – if Rowling wants to convince the world that she can cast other spells, she has succeeded

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Newsday

Excellent
Reviewed by Marion Winik on Sep 28 2012

with its realistic, intense teenage characters, its obsession with hypocrisy and its progressive ideals, the book is a natural for sophisticated high school readers, and other connoisseurs of dark social satire.

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Wired

Good
Reviewed by Sophie Brown on Oct 02 2012

If, however, you want a book that will make you think, or one that shows you what modern life in England is really like for many, then it’s quite possibly the best book you’ll buy this year.

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Mail Online

Above average
Reviewed by Jan Moir on Sep 30 2012

It is overlong, slow to start and bogged down with detail and a confusing rash of characters. But then, who would dare to edit the most successful author in the world?

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NY Daily News

Below average
Reviewed by Sherryl Connelly on Sep 25 2012

Rowling’s strength was never her prose. It was her ability to create unforgettable characters and weave stories that held us captive. The magic simply isn’t there in “The Casual Vacancy.” Indeed, the spell has been broken.

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Tulsa World

Above average
Reviewed by DEEPTI HAJELA on Sep 30 2012

What could have been an unreadable story becomes something else in Rowling's hands, thanks to her gift of being able to make her characters complex and really, just human.

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Chicago Sun Times

Above average
Reviewed by Kevin Nance on Oct 04 2012

In short, if Potter lovers can get past the absence of obvious magic in “The Casual Vacancy,” they’ll find themselves in surprisingly familiar territory in which, perhaps, a subtler form of magic, this of the literary variety, is being practiced.

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DNA

Below average
Reviewed by Deepanjana Pal on Oct 07 2012

The Casual Vacancy is just mediocre. Had Rowling written this novel first, it’s unlikely we’d have sat up and noticed her.

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The National

Above average
Reviewed by Laura Collins on Oct 06 2012

Put simply, we don't want to spend much time in these characters' company, and we don't get to know them any better for the time that we do. Still, the slow pace of the narrative means that we have little choice but to endure them if we are to get to the point where anything very much happens.

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Bookshelf Bombshells

Above average
Reviewed by Kerry Ann Morgan on Oct 05 2012

Bypass it if you want to see good overcome evil or you’re not particularly fond of tedious character studies about petty Englishmen with souls deadened by small-town life.

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Scotsman.com

Good
Reviewed by David Robinson on Sep 27 2012

It is far grittier, bleaker (and, occasionally, funnier) than I had expected, and – the acid test – I suspect it would do well even if its author’s name weren’t JK Rowling.

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Time Magazine

Excellent
Reviewed by Lev Grossman on Sep 27 2012

The Casual Vacancy is a different beast entirely...It’s a big, ambitious, brilliant, profane, funny, deeply upsetting and magnificently eloquent novel of contemporary England, rich with literary intelligence and entirely bereft of bullshit

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Breitbart

Good
Reviewed by Zachary Leeman on Oct 31 2012

The only fair warnings I can even think to give readers are these: the novel is dense. The hardcover edition is 503 pages. It requires an investment, but that investment pays off.

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Entertainment Weekly

Below average
Reviewed by Rob Brunner on Sep 27 2012

The Casual Vacancy piles on the unpleasantness — not just smack and tawdry sex, but also rape, child abuse, self-mutilation, suicide, pedophilia, and mental illness. It’s all just too much: When the novel finally arrives at its predictable and heavy-handed ending, what started as a lively comedy of manners has turned into an overwrought slog

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The Age

Above average
Reviewed by Peter Craven on Oct 07 2012

Despite stretches of cliche and failures of compassion (and dollops of sentimentality by way of a corollary), it does have a propulsion and an ability to hook the reader in the face of an attempted novelistic vision of life that's pretty rough and tough.

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The Age

Above average
Reviewed by Allison Pearson on Sep 27 2012

The novel pretty much explodes towards the end, losing shape in its fury at the dirty, unfair England that we Muggles have made for ourselves. It's like The Archers on amyl nitrate.

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Metro

Above average
Reviewed by Metro on Sep 26 2012

It’s a clever plot device, but Rowling crams in so much that there’s little room for anything to breathe. She’s clearly set out to write an Important Book. A pity then that it should often feel so bland.

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Annenberg Digital News

Above average
Reviewed by Judy L. Wang | on Oct 10 2012

Rowling delivers a compelling novel with hints of her "Harry Potter" style, but it might take a bit of a commitment to get through the beginning.

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Dawn.com

Good
Reviewed by Soonha Abro on Nov 17 2012

If you are a die-hard Rowling fan, or have enjoyed reading her work before, then I suggest you don’t miss out on The Casual Vacancy.

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PolicyMic

Above average
Reviewed by Rachel Wilson on Nov 01 2012

This isn’t J.K. Rowling’s best book. In my opinion, that was Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, though you’re welcome to disagree with me. But it won’t, most likely, be her last book.

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PolicyMic

Below average
Reviewed by Rebecca Hanover on Nov 01 2012

I do have an embarrassing confession to make, one that’s probably not even legal to admit in a book review: about sixty pages in, I quit the book.

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Kansas City Star

Good
Reviewed by Christine Pivovar on Sep 28 2012

When you finish, there’s no denying that you have been told a story by someone who knows just what she’s doing.

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Herald Scotland

Above average
Reviewed by Alan Taylor on Sep 26 2012

There is much, therefore, to enjoy in The Casual Vacancy. What lets it down, however, is the quality of Rowling’s prose.

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Publishing Perspective

Good
Reviewed by Dennis Abrams on Oct 31 2012

I thought the book was a terrific read. And while I loved the Harry Potter books to a fault, I look forward even more to seeing where this new adult Rowling goes next.

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Hypable

Excellent
Reviewed by Hypable Staff on Sep 26 2012

The Casual Vacancy is a clear departure for Rowling. She has proven she can write outside the world of fantasy children’s novels and show us a world that is gritty and real.

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Parade

Below average
Reviewed by Steve Daly on Sep 27 2012

The Casual Vacancy isn't just unblinking about the sordid side of life. It's almost gleefully clinical in cataloguing the worst impulses of humankind, and at bringing us into the heads of bigoted, vituperative locals ruled by tradition, spite, and envy. It's Dickensian in its contempt for corrupt people and institutions, and it comes on like narrative napalm.

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http://www.lareviewofbooks.org

Good
Reviewed by Roxana Badin on Mar 01 2013

Rowling creates a novel that lingers in the conscience and forces self-evaluation in the reader. Her goal of waking us up is noble and she does it masterfully.

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Reader Rating for The Casual Vacancy
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