The Casual Vacancy (J. K. Rowling, 2012)

Obviously I very much wanted this book to be awesome, and I’m pleased to tell you that it WAS.

Rowling opens with a series of brief character snapshots, which get you completely hooked by the time she plunges into the sordid depths of a town and a council filled with people you mostly hate, but are fascinated by and perversely rooting for, all the same.

In this, it reminded me of Christos Tsolkias’ The Slap, which I must admit I didn’t get much more than a couple of chapters into; because that really was too ugly for me, though I’m prepared to concede that I might have felt differently had I pushed on with it.

There was never any question about pushing on with this novel. It is one compulsive read, and every bit as suspenseful as anything of hers I have ever read, despite its conspicuous lack of wizards.

She gives the most accurate representation of the machinations of an insular community that you could ever hope for – its government, its festering wounds and the age-old prejudices between its haves and have-nots. She articulates so perfectly the enraging, hackneyed arguments of the small-minded and privileged that I found myself getting worked up on many a character’s behalf.

She captures what can be the mad mental anguish of being a teenager, not to mention just being a person, or a part of a family, so well that I found it a little confronting, to be honest.

But at no point was there any danger of me putting the book down, no matter how close to home it sliced.

An extraordinarily intense reading experience, ideal book-club fare, and a satisfying kick in the pants for all who have ever tried to tell me she wasn’t a great writer.

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