The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling
I’ve literally just finished reading this, so you could say that this post is hot off the (word)press! I have a lot to say about this book and I’m not sure that it can wait until the morning…
The Casual Vacancy is the story of a seemingly-idyllic small town called Pagford. Charming on the surface, Pagford is full of secrets- domestic violence, infidelity, OCD, self-harm, drug-taking and bullying- and when Parish Councillor Barry Fairbrother dies, all of these things combine and come to a head because the people affected by the aforementioned issues are all in some way involved with the election. It’s a state-of-the-nation novel that looks at issues facing people both young and old today, in particular class warfare.
Firstly, this novel proves that Rowling can certainly write for adults. Although she does not transform into another author altogether, she displays incredibly versatility in her latest book. Her style of writing makes the book as absorbing and easy to read as Harry Potter, but let’s not compare too much here. However, one might say that The Casual Vacancy showcases a different side to her talent. One of Potter’s greatest appeals to the teenage audience is its reflections upon society- we can relate to having patronising teachers like Umbridge who you just know are secretly evil- but that’s only a small feature of the series, whereas it is a predominant feature of The Casual Vacancy. For me personally, I loved that Rowling picked up on how badly behaved kids are the most indignant when wrongly accused. Yet I feel it would be wrong to claim, as Lev Grossman did, that Rowling has “turned into Ian McEwan”- she hasn’t. The Casual Vacancy leaves much less open to interpretation than McEwan does (although, of course, there is always room for interpretation!), which is either satisfying or oppressive, depending on the type of reader you are.
One of Rowling’s many, many, many talents is producing realistic characters, although the ones in this novel are much less loveable than Harry, Ron and Hermione (I’m trying not to compare, but it’s hard). However, this is understandable; it’s an adult novel, and adult novels aren’t always filled with characters who you wish were your best friend. On the other hand, although they are not loveable, the characters are relatable and certainly provoke a reaction (especially Shirley Mollison, she’s a real piece of work). Rowling expertly recreates microcosmic atmosphere of a small town- I can say that, being someone who lives in one. She also explores the class wars that are often waging; the middle classes who look down on those living in council houses. I know people like Krystal Weedon and they are looked down upon and not always treated with a great deal of respect. Yet I don’t think Rowling always entirely fair. My village is small, yes, and there’s a fair share of gossip but that’s not to say it’s a soulless place filled with people who all secretly hate each other- on the street upon which I live, at least, everyone cares about each other and there is a real sense of community.
Small-town bashing aside, The Casual Vacancy is a gritty and absorbing book. It took me a few chapters to get into it, but after I’d become acquainted with the characters I began to devote more and more hours reading it and now it’s 1:19 in the morning, I have work tomorrow and I’m sitting here blogging about it because I became slightly addicted to it and I’m sad that it’s finished. So I will end my post with a direct plea to J.K. Rowling: please write more books for adults!
Have YOU read The Casual Vacancy? What did you think? I’d love to know, so please leave a comment!