What’s Missing From J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy? Let the Critics Tell You

Author J.K. Rowling attends photocall ahead of her reading from 'The Casual Vacancy' at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on September 27, 2012 in London, England.
Author J.K. Rowling attends photocall ahead of her reading from ‘The Casual Vacancy’ at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on September 27, 2012 in London, England. Photo: Ben Pruchnie/Getty Images

Yesterday, J.K. Rowling’s long-awaited adult novel, The Casual Vacancy, was set free from its maximum-security, goblin-guarded warehouse and released into the world. The reviews so far are mixed, but critics seem to agree on one thing: The book is not Harry Potter. It lacks magic (of the literal or literary kind); there is no Platform 9 3/4; Dumbledore does not show up once. In fact, all sorts of things are missing from the novel, according to reviewers. Here is a handy list of what not to expect:


” … you know you’re not in Hogwarts anymore, or even in its affiliated den of sin Hogsmeade.” —Lev Grossman, Time

 “No amount of Reparo spells can undo the things that are done; we’re not in Hogwarts anymore.” —Monica Hesse, the Washington Post

“Well, we’re not at Hogwarts anymore.” —Elizabeth Gleick, People 

“And of course there’s nothing resembling magical Hogwarts.” —Henry Sutton, the Mirror

“After months of frenzied speculation and cloak and dagger secrecy JK Rowling’s first novel for adults is here — and it’s as far removed from Hogwarts as you can imagine.” —Emma Lee-Potter, the Daily Express


” … rich with literary intelligence and entirely bereft of bullshit” —Lev Grossman, Time

Narrative Sorcery

“There is no magic in this book — in terms of wizarding or in terms of narrative sorcery.” —Michiko Kakutani, the New York Times


“There is no magic in this book — in terms of wizarding or in terms of narrative sorcery.” —Michiko Kakutani, the New York Times

” … it’s a painfully arbitrary and fallen world, a world that, bereft as it is of the magic that animates and ennobles Hogwarts, sags and cracks under its own weight.” —Lev Grossman, Time

” … imagine a world without magic, beneficent protectors, or teenagers interested in anything more than themselves.” —Malcolm Jones, the Daily Beast

“No magic, but full of unforgettable profanity” —Sherryl Connelly, New York Daily News

“Minus the magic, though, good and evil are depressingly human.” —Publisher’s Weekly

“This book is more depressing than her previous work because it is set in a world without magic, where cruelty is less apocalyptic and more believably petty.” —Andrew Losowsky, Huffington Post    

“‘There’s no magic in this book to make it better,’ I said. ‘Lots of it is really horrible. I don’t want you to read it, darling.’” —Allison Pearson, the Telegraph    


“Instead of an exhilarating sense of the mythic possibilities of storytelling, we are left with a numbing understanding of the difficulty of turning a dozen or so people’s tales into a story with genuine emotional resonance.”  —Michiko Kakutani, the New York Times

Fully Imagined Characters

“It’s that the characters in The Casual Vacancy feel so much less fully imagined than the ones in the Harry Potter epic.” —Michiko Kakutani, the New York Times


” … it lacks the Harry Potter books’ warmth and charm; all the characters are fairly horrible or suicidally miserable or dead.”Theo Tait, the Guardian

“Her depiction of a world, full of petty corruption, dirty secrets, bitter betrayals and thwarted desires, is a billion miles away from the charm, magic and innocence of Potterland.” —Henry Sutton, the Mirror


And there is no Dumbledore to step in at the end to give everything a meaning and declare a moral victor.” —Lev Grossman, Time


“It is for adults, and it is not about adult wizards.” —Monica Hesse, the Washington Post

“However, do not come here expecting wizards and turrets, or charm and whimsy.” —Jan Moir, the Daily Mail 

Warning Labels

“All it’s lacking is what would seem an all-too-necessary warning label: Keep Out of the Hands of Children.” —Malcolm Jones, the Daily Beast


“Right from the start there’s no pandering to a young audience or those that might take offence at bad language. The C-word is used as both a noun and a verb, while there are depictions of drug abuse, self-harming, domestic violence, and tragic, avoidable deaths.” —Henry Sutton, the Mirror

Interesting or likeable characters

“That’s but a sampling of the folk along the fault line in Pagford, and they are all deluded in their own way with their own tales to tell. The problem is, not one of them is interesting or even particularly likeable.” -Sherryl Connelly, New York Daily News

Platform Nine 3/4

“In her first grown-up novel, Rowling has chosen to construct her plot around a local municipal election — a world so far away from Platform 9 3/4 that it would be unfair and ludicrous to compare it with her previous works.” —Monica Hesse, the Washington Post

Harry or Hermione

“And worst of all, Harry Potter himself cannot be here to save the world from evil — for the evil is already too deeply entrenched in the pretty and desirable village of Pagford, somewhere way out west.” —Jan Moir, Daily Mail 

“And forget trying to find a ­character resembling Harry or Hermione.” —Henry Sutton, the Mirror

“And so, from the pen that brought you The Leaky Cauldron comes this: ‘His knuckles in her belly as he undid his own flies — she tried to scream and he smacked her across the face — the smell of him was thick in her nostrils as he growled in her ear, ‘F—–’ shout and I’ll cut yer.’’ So much for Hermione Granger.” —Allison Pearson, the Telegraph  


“This book would be a little better if everyone were carrying wands.” —Monica Hesse, the Washington Post

“Ultimately, The Casual Vacancy is a book that understands there are no magic wands.” —Christopher Brookmyre, the Daily Telegraph


“There are no unicorns nor anything at all fantastical in The Casual Vacancy. But there’s a lot of sex and drugs, rape, self-harming, general human nastiness, misery and death.” —David Sexton, the Evening Standard

“Harry Potter fans may long for a few more unicorns, though.” —David Sexton, the Evening Standard


“J.K. Rowling likes to describe her new book as a comic tragedy, yet there are few laughs to pierce the blanket of gloom in this bleak and rather one-sided vision of life in modern England.” —Jan Moir, the Daily Mail 


“Still, to explore such issues accurately, with depth and compassion, requires nuance, which is what The Casual Vacancy lacks.” —David Ulin, the L.A. Times

Invisibility Cloaks, Pensieves

“Yet despite the lack of invisibility cloaks and pensieves, Pagford isn’t so different from Harry’s world.” —Publisher’s Weekly

“After 15 years of invisibility cloaks, Rowling’s craving for highly visible realism is understandable.” —Allison Pearson, the Telegraph    


“Rowling seems determined to distance herself from the innocent pleasures of wizards and Quidditch, and The Casual Vacancy piles on the unpleasantness — not just smack and tawdry sex, but also rape, child abuse, self-mutilation, suicide, pedophilia, and mental illness.” —Rob Brunner, Entertainment Weekly

Hope and Redemption

“In previous JK Rowling books, there has been evil and death and sadness, but there has also been hope and redemption. At the end of The Casual Vacancy, there is no wand to wave, no spell to make the horror go away. It is pitiless.”Allison Pearson, the Telegraph

So, like we said, magic.

What’s Missing From The Casual Vacancy?