Warning: this review contains SPOILERS.
JK Rowling's new adult novel "A Casual Vacancy" lacks wands and a scar-branded young hero, yet it is a refreshing change from the author who never ceases to amaze.
The story, which is centered around the Parish Council of a small town in England, narrates the lives of the townspeople after a very unexpected death. Unlike the "Harry Potter" series, which, excluding a few chapters, is told from the point of view of Harry, this book is divided in sections for different characters' perspectives. This allows the reader to becoming acquainted with each personality not only through their own thoughts, but also through everyone else's thoughts about each other. While the women bicker about which one of them knows the most about the town gossip, Rowling places the reader above them all by giving us a peak into everyone's head. Compared to the Potter series, where she had seven volumes to fully expand on each character, "A Casual Vacancy" develops characters in a new, stimulating way that few writers can effectively manage.
The biggest difference between the two works is that this novel is most definitely not for children. The characters featured in "Vacancy" are a heroin-addicted mother with a troubling past, pot-smoking teenagers with exceptionally horrific family lives, and insecure adults who all seem to be undergoing a midlife crisis. In the end, the only likable character in the town of Pagford seems to be Barry Fairbrother, who dies in the first three pages of the book. However, what Rowling does that makes us keep turning pages is illustrate the complexity and depth of each individual, and ultimately, the reality of every single conflict. "A Casual Vacancy" gives us a glimpse into the lives of people in a tiny, seemingly quiet town in England, and no matter how morbid, we cannot deny the sense of unity and human compassion each story instills in us. Now, we can identify the town's problems as a whole, and maybe each family's problems, yet we can also see the cracks and creaks within every person. Rowling shows us that we humans are in a constant battle against ourselves, yet we all have our own complexities, so that makes it a battle we are all fighting together.
The characters in "A Casual Vacancy" are varied, which highlights Rowling's ability to effectively capture all ages, from curious teenagers to married couples to 60-year-old women. The novel is intelligent and funny, with unpredictable twists and turns. Although the two deaths at the very end were a slight overkill, the world J.K. Rowling paints for us in Pagford is dark and real, exactly what we need after the fantastic world of Harry Potter.
What is truly inspiring about J.K. Rowling's writing is that she spent about 17 years of her life dedicated to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and then, when we Muggles had just finished mourning the end of the series, she gifted us with a story that could not be more different yet is equally magical to read. We can only wait and see what comes next from one of England's most celebrated authors.