From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.
J. K. Rowling has said that she considered writing The Casual Vacancy under a pseudonym. Had she done so, Rowling probably would have learned what it's like to be a midlist author unpublicized, unnoticed, and unhappy. Like many midlist titles, this one is perfectly fine, but in no way outstanding. Set in Pagford, a picturesque West Country village, this very British book has a clever, if arcane, centerpiece: a casual vacancy, an opening on the village council. When Barry Fairbrother drops dead of an aneurysm, his death sets off a chain reaction. A strong supporter of keeping a poor council estate as part of Pagford (he grew up there), Fairbrother is opposed by a smug, controlling businessman (Vernon Dursley, writ small) who wants to rid the village of the undesirables. Fairbrother's demise causes a crisis at the council and in the personal lives of many, including a teenager to whom he gave a helping hand. As everyone knows, Rowling is very good at creating worlds, and here she effectively shows the stifling (for some) and satisfying (for others) constraints of village life. Somewhat less successful are her characters, who wouldn't seem out of place in a British soap opera: not surprisingly, it's her several teen characters, the tortured and the torturers, who jump most from the page. As for her prose, well, that was never Rowling's strong suit, and it lumbers more than it soars. To give credit where it's due, one of the world's richest women wrote her book and is willing to take the critical lumps when she didn't have to do anything more than stay home and count her money. She must like to write.--Cooper, Ilene Copyright 2010 Booklist
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Overlong and bereft of the rich brocade of invention that made "Harry Potter," well, magical, Rowling's latest novel might seem to have the critical deck stacked against it, but this, her first "book for adults," is made of stronger stuff. It tells the story of a small English town, Pagford, which loses, in the novel's first pages, one of its lynchpins: father, friend, rowing instructor, and council member Barry Fairbrother. Across the wide scope of Rowling's story, Fairbrother is the common thread, as some characters cope with his absence and others use his name to enact personal vendettas. The cast is, unsurprisingly, large, and Rowling excels with her teenage characters-who are vivid and mercurial in her hands-where the adults are often thick and one-note. She doesn't shy away from the material noticeably absent in her YA series-i.e., sex, drugs, and religion-and overall her frankness is refreshing, though there are several moments that clunk, thud, and bewilder (many of which will prompt laughter). Verdict Still, Rowling is a storyteller, and this book is no exception to her powers. Though slow to start, it has the momentum to carry readers through to the end, and they will be glad they stayed with it. A rewarding read; recommended. [See Rowling Goes Adult.-Ed.]-Molly McArdle, Library Journal (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.