I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.



Brenna Katz Clarke
The Casual Vacancy, by JK Rowling, Little, Brown, 512 pp, £20, ISBN 978-1408704202 JK Rowling’s much awaited novel finally arrived for the  millions of muggle children who read Harry Potter and the adults who did too, albeit in a different dust jacket or under the cover of Kindle. Some queued at midnight without children to capture the first copies and have them read by morning light. Though I was among those bewitched by Pottermania, I came to The Casual Vacancy with an open mind and much hope. Rowling’s first “adult” novel (these categories are less and less useful) is definitely over the watershed for her beloved audience of children, but even the adults will be longing for a return to the magic of Hogwarts. The adult title seems to have given Rowling permission to swear like an Elizabethan sailor, use sex and themes of incest, drug addiction and rape, self-harm, suicide and graphic descriptions of online pornography that have been fictionally pent up in her Potter years. It feels like she has been let loose from her parental lock. The novel is an Aga saga that takes place in the pastoral West Country parish of Pagford. When Barry Fairbrother, the main character and moral compass of the novel, dies in the opening pages, from an aneurysm, a “casual vacancy is left on the parish council. (A casual vacancy is defined as occurring a) when a local councillor fails to make his declaration of acceptance of office within the proper time; or b) when his notice of resignation is received; or c) on the day of his death.) Barry was the only opponent of a plan to realign the Fields, a notorious run-down council estate to the council of nearby Yarvill. The county council wants to vote in someone to replace him who will ensure that the Fields, with its drug dealers and prostitutes and disadvantaged, is no longer a taint on the Wisteria Lane pastoral town of Pagford and its privileged primary school. Barry was the one shining example of someone who escaped the Fields, went to university and rose socially. As a teacher and local councillor, he was the champion of its underclass and in particular of Krystal Weedon and her much damaged family. Though he is dead, Barry’s ghost haunts the novel. With the competition for a new councillor in full cry, there are internet hackings on to the parish…



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