J.K. Rowling’s ‘The Casual Vacancy’: The Reviews Are In!

Critics agree that 'Harry Potter' author's first foray into adult literature is good, not great.

Five years after the publication of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” J.K. Rowling is returning to the literary scene with her first adult novel, “The Casual Vacancy.”

The tome follows the goings-on in the English idyll of Pagford, where a councilman’s unexpected death leaves an open seat (otherwise known as a “casual vacancy”) on the council. But the election to fill his spot ends up having much greater implications that anyone could have imagined.

With today’s publication of Rowling’s adult debut, fans are no doubt wondering whether she still has the magic. Here’s what the critics are saying:

The Story
“‘The Casual Vacancy,’ Rowling’s overlong but often entertaining debut adult novel, is a big book that follows small people jockeying for a little position in the tiny town of Pagford. When one of the community’s 16 parish councilors unexpectedly dies of an aneurysm, a bunch of town notables try to use the ensuing ‘casual vacancy’ to pursue various conflicting agendas. Rowling does a nice job laying out her 20-plus characters’ endless pretensions and weaknesses, which she punctures with gleeful flicks of a surprisingly sharp comic blade.” — Rob Brunner, Entertainment Weekly

The Harry Potter Connection
“On the face of it, Rowling’s first adult book is very different from the Harry Potter books that made her rich and famous. It’s resolutely unmagical: the closest thing to wizardry is the ability to hack into the amateurish Pagford Parish Council Web site. Instead of a battle for worldwide domination, there’s a fight over a suddenly empty seat on that Council, the vacancy of the title. Yet despite the lack of invisibility cloaks and pensieves, Pagford isn’t so different from Harry’s world. There’s a massive divide between the haves and those pesky have-nots — the residents of the Fields, the council flat that some want to push off onto Yarvil, the county council nearby.” — Publisher’s Weekly

Hide The Kids
“This is definitely not a book for children: suicide, rape, heroin addiction, beatings and thoughts of patricide percolate through its pages; there is a sex scene set in a cemetery, a grotesque description of a used condom (‘glistening in the grass beside her feet, like the gossamer cocoon of some huge grub’) and alarming scenes of violent domestic abuse.” — Michiko Kakutani, New York Times

Rowling’s Writing
“Rowling is clearly a skilled writer. This book is more depressing than her previous work because it is set in a world without magic, where cruelty is less apocalyptic and more believably petty. Though some sequences feel a few drafts short of being ready, others are written with a fluency and beauty that suggest that there could be more and better works to come from her pen.” — Andrew Losowsky, Huffington Post

The Final Word
“‘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?” — Theo Tait, The Guardian