Title: The Casual Vacancy
Author: J.K. Rowling
First published: September 27th 2012, Little, Brown and Company
Edition: ebook, 506 pages
Age group: Adult
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
When Barry Fairweather dies unexpectedly in his early forties, the little town of Pagford is left in shock.
Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, but what lies behind the pretty façade is a town at war.
Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils…Pagford is not what it first seems.
And the empty seat left by Barry on the town’s council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen. Who will triumph in an election fraught with passion, duplicity and unexpected revelations?
The first thing you find when looking for the information about The Casual Vacancy is the inevitable and always first-paragraph mentioned it being written by the Harry Potter literary mother J.K. Rowling, the thing that seems to be the most notable and most motivating to any person even vaguely acquainted with the Hogwarts world. People would launch onto this book, they would turn pages desperately seeking for any well known characters. And they would put the book down disappointed when it didn’t prove their expectations, that there was no magic in it.
Well, the first thing when you start to read a book is to decide beforehand whether it is you cup of tea. There do exist people that don’t like Harry Potter and don’t get this appeal of the magical world pictured in the books. The Casual Vacancy has to be chosen on the same grounds. It’s not a book for anyone, definitely. Being positioned as the novel for adults, it’s not even for every adult. The summery says it all, it features a list of different disturbing social issues – politics, drugs, racism, domestic and child abuse, rape and suicide. It’s no kid’s book, so expect no unicorns and wands here.
The number of issues raised in the novel is shockingly high for the small town Pagford the novel is set in. The first and foremost, the political one, is raised after the death of Parish Councillor Barry Fairbrother. Normal as it is, the place in the Council he once occupied is now the reason for the town citizens’ building war. When being pictured nice and typical small town people in the beginning, their deepest and most secret natures are coming to the surface in the most detailed description. It’s two opponents that take the lead – Miles Mollison, son of the leader of the Parish Councillor, and Colin Wall, Deputy Headteacher of the local comprehensive and Barry Fairbrother’s former close friend. They debate over the local estate “The Fields”, the home for the most troubled population and also the residence for the methadone rehabilitation clinic, Bellchapel. The whole town is set to split following this battle. Colin Wall and those who support The Fields to remain part of Pagford, following Barry Fairbrother goal, are in the minority, including Parish Council Member doctor Parminder Jawanda and social worker Kay Bawden. They lose the battle to Miles Mollison and his parents, whose aim is for The Fields to join other city Yarvil and the clinic to be closed.
The way how subtle this battle is written is almost too realistic. The means the citizens come to trying to achieve their goals and along the way involuntarily showing their inner most dirty secrets makes you feel like a little fly on the walls of their rooms witnessing and listening with your own eyes and ears each of their spoken word and every little movement. It’s almost insurmountable how great a person’s desire to win is and how much they can put at stake and how little in the end the case they are fighting for really matters to them. It always turns out to be the matter of pride.
Another striking issue raised by Rowling is the problem of a family as a social institute. A family is not always just a father, a mother and their child. Sometimes a family is a powerful social weapon, that can reign a society and be considered the first to judge the right from wrong, the one to pass judgment. And then there are families that suffer from unhappy marriage, or domestic abuse or drug using. But they all have one thing in common, no matter what, in JK Rowling’s book, they stick to each other in the end.
Probably the only link to Rowling’s world popular book series in The Casual Vacancy is her depiction of the world of teenagers. It’s both amazing and petrifying at the same time, how raw and impartial her description of the teenager world is. The teens in her book smoke and swear, have sex and skip school, they fight with each other and with adults, they love and hate. And it’s almost inevitable to think of their role as the most crucial in this story. They may not be Dumbledore’s Army, but they, too, fight for what they care about against the unfair world of grown-ups.
The book features no less than 34 main characters, but it wouldn’t be a J.K. Rowling book if any of them wasn’t presented with a detailed life story. Each of them is a unique person, with their own backgrounds, pride and shame, lies and truths. In fact there’s not a moment you get lost in them, actually you get so immersed in their lives, you feel like a Pagford citizen too waiting for the results of the vote to finally come out.
The book is a tremendous work on Rowling’s part, you can’t just skip through it in one day. It will take you whole and won’t let your interest go till the very end. I don’t understand when people complain that it’s not at all like Harry Potter. It’s a totally different story, it’s real and it’s true. Sometimes it’s great to immerse yourself in the world of magic, but other times the real world is much more compelling.