Monday, November 19, 2012

The Casual Vacancy - a review by The Bookchook

Author: J.K. Rowling

Publication Date: 2012

Publisher: Little Brown Book Group Limited

What's it all about?

 J.K. Rowling's highly anticipated first novel for adults, The Casual Vacancy, was launched amidst high media publicity and has had mixed reviews. The Casual Vacancy is a grim novel dealing with the realities and ugliness of modern life but there is none of the magic so beautifully crafted in the Harry Potter novels. Instead, Rowling has used her latest work as a tool to promote social good.

The novel is set in the small English village of Pagford and follows the political and personal fallout created by the death of Barry Fairbrother, a member of the parish council, a good man, with a mission to engage those less priviledged in society. The election brings to the surface simmering tensions over class, family and status, in a place of secrets, poisoned by "things denied, things hidden and disguised."

There is little to love in this work. The characters have few redeeming features. There's the extravagantly obese councillor, Howard Mollison, disaffected youths Fats and Andrew, and the real hero of the novel, skanky Krystal Weedon - "funny and tough; impossible to intimidate; always coming out fighting." This is a world far removed from Hogwarts, dealing with drug addiction, self-harm, rape, suicide and domestic violence. Not suprisingly, the adolescent characters are drawn with much greater depth and compassion than the adults in the novel.

This is a long book, with not a lot happening in the beginning. The action picks up on page 240 and from there the reader becomes immersed in the scandals unfolding in Pagford and the trouble-plagued council estate, The Fields. As the election spins out of control and the plot plunges toward a tragic ending, the covers of middle-class decency are ripped away to reveal the true ugliness beneath.

The Casual Vacancy is a thought-provoking read. It is overly long, but worth the effort of getting through the first-half. Rowling's message of the need for social good shows that we are all our brother's keepers - we should all take care of each other, regardless of our social standing. Which isn't really so different, after all, from the world of Harry Potter.

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Sue Wotton said...

I think Rowling's greatest strength is shown quiet clearly in this book: character development.

I struggled for half the book and then quite suddenly realised I had begun to care about the characters, even the less salubrious ones. Rowling has created another masterpiece, through her quite clearly brilliant understanding of people. I ended up loving it, and am looking forward to her next. (and yes, I still re-read Harry Potter... over... and over... and over... )

Natasha said...

Thanks so much for your lovely comment Sue! I have posted this review on behalf of another staff member but my partner has given me a copy of this and I am a massive Harry fan so I had been apprehensive about reading it but both The Bookchook's and your comments have encouraged me to plunge in and once again immerse myself in Rowling's writing. I will be reading Harry for the rest of my life, glad to hear this is a tradition shared by others!