J.K.Rowling gave a whole generation of kids an amazing fantasy to dream about (*). Then she wrote this book that has many of the same elements, only without the safe haven of magic (**). Basically, this is a real world where a strange man showing up at your family's doorstep at night is less likely to be a magical school groundskeeper but more likely your family's drug dealer who, by the way, may not be adverse to beating and raping you for good measure.(***) It's the world left for Dudley Dursley and friends after Harry gets whisked away to magicland, and it ain't pretty.(*) I confess - I'm a Potter fan, too. Just look at my t-shirt in my profile picture. I would also redo medical school in a heartbeat if only Hogwarts offered a med school curriculum.(**) Abusive family, closed-mindedness, thinly veiled prejudice, bullying and constant threats - all that is just the beginning of the first Potter book. Later we have iron-pumping Dudley hang out at deserted playgrounds, taking pride in physically abusing small children. (***) A tasteless joke to follow - well, drugs may be one plausible explanation for all that followed for the Potter kid, including Harry's fantastic magicland TRIP. Hehe.Okay, having got the Potter references and tasteless humor out of my system, I can start my actual review. ------------------------The Casual Vacancy is a book about the pettiness and selfishness and often quite unintentional cruelty of mundane human life, which does not have to be dramatic or poignant or in any other way remarkable to be tragic. It's not about any grand battle between good an evil, or any significant confrontations, or any remotely heroic feats - no, it is about how small little seemingly insignificant things can combine into a depressing picture of everyday tragedy.'Dark and gritty' (the description that I've heard a few times about it) it also isn't - it's simply realistic and does not shy away from life's unpleasantness. This is a book that is never about the destination (it doesn't really have one, actually) but about the journey, cliché as it may sound.-------------------------What the town of Pagford would really like to be seen as.The Casual Vacancy is a book about a seemingly quaint English town of Pagford which, to the dismay of many well-meaning citizens, has a less than desirable area known as the Fields (you know, one of those neighborhoods filled with drugs, drugs users, drug dealers, and terrifying poverty. And kids from there who go to the respectable town school, and some of whom grow up to be respectable, and some of whom punch other girls' teeth out. That kind of neighborhood). What the rest of Padford sees the neighborhood of the Fields as.So the well-meaning town officials are locked in the battle that involves either keeping the Fields or shuffling it off onto a neighboring town, and also whether to keep or to close a local methadone clinic. And when Barry, one of the town councillors, dies because of an unfortunately timed brain aneurysm, leaving a town council seat unoccupied, the real ugly of small town politics rears its head. Add to the mix surly teenagers, drugs, sex, casual rape, bullying, domestic violence, lies, cheating, indifference, prejudice, self-mutilation, neglect, verbal abuse, desperation, almost-murder - and you have some idea of what The Casual Vacancy is about. And none of it is even remotely magical.What I like most about this novel is that it's basically a character study. There's not that much plot, little action of any kind, and - *spoiler* - not that much resolution of existing conflicts by the end of the book. It is really just a sketch of a bit of small-town English society, quite nicely done. But hey - if character studies are not your cup of Earl Grey, you will definitely doze off over the 500-plus pages of this novel. Luckily for me, this is a genre I enjoy."Life, for Colin, was one long brace against pain and disappointment, and everybody apart from his wife was an enemy until they had proven otherwise."We get to see the life in Pagford from the point of view of quite a few of its inhabitants. Normally I'd find that distracting, but here it's served its purpose - making every character grey, nobody black-and-white. Those who seemed destined to be 'the bad guys' in the first few chapters are not; they are very regular everyday people with regular flaws and charms, whose views are presented such that you see both flaws and reason in them. Those who seemed destined to be 'good guys', similarly, are not (see above). Everyone is just an ordinary person, both likable and unlikable at the same time, and instantly recognizable as a 'real' person."He tried to give his wife pleasure in little ways, because he had come to realize, after nearly two decades together, how often he disappointed her in the big things. It was never intentional. They simply had very different notions of what ought to take up most space in life."Actually - and it must be my old age speaking - the person who I found to be the most antagonistic was a confused teenager searching for 'authenticity' with the utmost boneheadedness, I must add. Get off my lawn, I scream, get off my lawn! Everyone else, whether antagonistic or repulsive, felt firmly set on their unremarkable chosen road; Fats, on the other hand, was caught in a spiral of finding himself while quite deliberately hurting people around him, and I found it to be one of the most painful parts of the book.Authenticity, as Fats Wall, a middle-class suburban teenager, sees it.-------------------------J.K.Rowling is definitely NOT a one-hugely-popular-series wonder. No, this woman can definitely write very well (and with properly placed punctuation!) Her prose is well-chosen, simple, and very non-distracting. As a writer, she never demands attention, never jumps out with a writing gimmick, never over-emphasizes her cleverness; she instead tells her story in an even and well-modulated voice, occasionally full of sadness, occasionally humorous but never overwhelming."‘Stone dead,’ said Howard, as though there were degrees of deadness, and the kind that Barry Fairbrother had contracted was particularly sordid."All in all, I thought it was a very well-executed and interesting book which will undoubtedly appeal to a much smaller audience than the Potter series, but among the ones that love it, this love will be well-deserved. I will be gladly waiting for anything else that Rowling chooses to write - and not only because I love Harry the wizard but because I'm sure now that she is a damn fine writer. 4.5 stars.