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New Release: The Casual Vacancy

By J.K. Rowling
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company | 512 pages
Release Date: September 27, 2012

Today, rabid fans can finally get their hands on The Casual Vacancy, J.K. Rowling’s eagerly awaited adult novel. The story begins with the unexpected death of good-natured parish council member Barry Fairbrother, which throws the small village of Pagford into upheaval. The surface of Pagford may be story-book perfect, but underneath roils a a toxic combination of anger, lust, racism and pretentiousness. Some of the less ethical members of the council, lead by businessman Howard Mollison, angle to fill Fairbrother’s empty seat with one of their own, in a ploy to foist responsibility of their undesirable council estate (British version of the Projects) onto a neighboring village. With their hands washed of what is perceived as a blight on their community, the residents of Pagford will no longer be obliged to educate the children of the poor and downtrodden in their local schools. Rowling paints a sociological portrait of Pagford, revealing various states of the human condition, warts and all. Though this story is decidedly directed at more mature audiences, there are themes in The Casual Vacancy that run parallel to the Potter series. “I think there is a through-line,” Rowling explains in an interview with The New Yorker. “Mortality, morality, the two things that I obsess about.”

What critics are saying:
This is the author’s first book for adults and her first full-length novel published since Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was released in 2007. Early reviews have been hot and cold, but with Rowling’s legion of devotees worldwide, The Casual Vacancy may be nearly bulletproof against any negative press. The novel is currently #1 on Amazon.com, and millions are likely to buy the book, out of curiosity alone. Many critics can’t agree on the novel’s merits, yet most of them agree that Rowling’s approach to this novel is very different than any of the Harry Potter series. Some readers may be disappointed.

In a review for The Guardian Theo Tait concludes: “The Casual Vacancy is no masterpiece, but it’s not bad at all: intelligent, workmanlike, and often funny. I could imagine it doing well without any association to the Rowling brand, perhaps creeping into the Richard and Judy Book Club, or being made into a three-part TV serial. The fanbase may find it a bit sour, as it lacks the Harry Potter books’ warmth and charm; all the characters are fairly horrible or suicidally miserable or dead. But the worst you could say about it, really, is that it doesn’t deserve the media frenzy surrounding it. And who nowadays thinks that merit and publicity have anything do with each other?”

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