I finished this book with a glass of wine and a box of tissues. My tears fell for the characters in the book, and their injustices, their pain, and the knowledge that real-life people are going through the same, and worse.
This isn’t the first time J.K. Rowling has made me cry. Her themes of respect, friendship, and death are as apparent in The Casual Vacancy as they were in Harry Potter. The Casual Vacancy opens with the death of Barry Fairbrother, a member of the town council in Pagford. Just like with Harry’s mother, Lily Evans, we learn about Barry mostly through the way people speak of him. He is kind, perhaps to a fault. He is generous. He is smart, works hard, and cares for people less fortunate than him. People like Krystal Weedon, a high school student from the poor side of town who Barry takes under his wing.
The tale that follows Barry’s death is full of gossip in a small town, and how it affects the city council election for Barry’s now open spot. There’s gossip, bullying, drinking, drugs, affairs, and sex. But also HOW that gossip, bullying, drinking, drugs, affairs, and sex affect the people involved. Through Rowling’s beautifully crafted characters, you learn about the bully and bullied. You see both sides, and Rowling poses no judgement. She leaves that to you.
My favorite thing about this book, and the Harry Potter series, is how Rowling illustrates respect. Harry respects living creatures, no matter how small or insignificant. He sees what’s in their hearts and not the purity of their blood. In The Casual Vacancy, almost everyone does bad things. But who is a bad person? Is it a drug addict prostitute mother? Is it a man who cheats on his wife? Is it a teenager with every privilege who harasses people for sport? Rowling finds humanity in all of them, and in doing so, she reminds her readers to do the same.
I have a lot more thoughts about this book. Want to talk about it with me? Lemme know. Email me at raesdays [at] gmail.com, leave a comment, or hit me up on twitter @rclnudson. (And if you’re my sister, Dad said you were reading it–let’s talk soon!) See what else I’m reading on Goodreads.