James Ley reviews 'The Casual Vacancy' by J.K. Rowling

James Ley reviews 'The Casual Vacancy' by J.K. Rowling

The Casual Vacancy

by J.K. Rowling

Little, Brown (Hachette), $39.99 hb, 503 pp, 9781408704202

In the opening pages of The Casual Vacancy, a man named Barry Fairbrother collapses and dies in the car park of the Pagford Golf Club. For the next seven chapters, news of his premature demise spreads through the small English town. Reactions vary.

‘Fairbrother’s dead? … Good God … He wasn’t much past forty was he?’
‘Gavin was only playing squash with him on Thursday.’
‘Good God. Just goes to show you, doesn’t it? Just goes to show. Hang on. Mum wants a word.’
‘Christ, it puts everything in perspective, though, doesn’t it, eh?’
‘He’ll have had a massive cerebral haemorrhage. His poor, poor wife … she’s absolutely devastated.’
‘Bloody hell …What was he, forty? … Goes to show, doesn’t it? … Got to watch yourself.’
‘Do you think I should put something on the website?’
‘He’s … fuck, he’s dead! … Jesus Christ! Jesus fucking Christ! … I play squash with him. He’s only forty-four! Jesus Christ! … I can’t believe it. We only played squash on Thursday. I can’t – Jesus.’
‘Oh yeah, I heard.’
‘Mr Barry Fairbrother, who has coached our extremely socksess … success … successful girls’ rowing team for the past two years, has died … died … last night ... Who laughed? … Who laughed?’
‘I DI’N DO NOTHIN’, YOU PRICK!’
‘No! How?’
‘Is this a joke?’

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James Ley

James Ley

James Ley is an essayist and literary critic who lives in Melbourne. A former Editor of Sydney Review of Books, he has been a regular contributor to ABR since 2003.