By J.K. Rowling. Grade: A
I can’t even attempt to describe my reaction when I finally got the book in the mail from the publisher, barely a day after its release. Perhaps something like this.
When Barry Fairbrother dies in his early forties, the 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 parish 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 Casual Vacancy is J.K. Rowling’s first novel for adults.
First of all, important advice who haven’t yet started reading it, please forget it’s written by JKR, and do not think of Harry Potter. If you do so, there is a slight chance you will be disturbed by the very descriptive sex scenes, cuss words, surly teenagers, drugs, casual rape, bullying, domestic violence, lies, cheating, indifference, prejudice, self-mutilation, neglect, verbal abuse, desperation, almost-murder, and overwhelmingly dark and gritty characters by a woman who has moulded your childhood and you think of as a distant, lovely grandmother. Nope. This is Adults Only in the true sense. (For some reason when I heard that it’s going to be an adult novel, I conjured up an image of a mature book, with some deep, thought-provoking writing that would change our outlook of the world. Basically, mature and grown-up stuff, something different from the mundane deaths and sacrifices and pain in the war between good and evil we have been reading about in Harry Potter. Well, surprise! This is seriously an adult novel.)
Believe me, I had no misconceptions. Looking at the drab cover and the bland description, I knew this was not Harry Potter. But I wanted it anyway. And after reading it, I can understand why the author was so apprehensive of publishing it, and even considered publishing it anonymously. Like all readers, I have mixed feelings about this book.
I won’t waste your time in describing the plot, because frankly, there isn’t any. I don’t even have a proper genre to classify it under, because the blurb was misleading. There is no mystery regarding Harry – oops, Barry’s death, indeed that was just a place to begin the story. Harry, err…Barry is in some ways our dead Caesar, the catalyst that sent Pagford into a tizzy. The book is entirely character driven, and if she hadn’t etched them so deftly, so craftily, so masterfully, so beautifully, I have no doubt readers would have ripped it into shreds. Yes, the build up is too slow. Yes, almost nothing happens for three-fourths of the book. Yes, sometimes the characters are so petty that you find yourself sickened, but unable to turn away; glued to the pages despite yourself. They are victims of loneliness, deserted by their loved ones when they were at their worst, and you find yourself addicted. This is why The Casual Vacancy will certainly enjoy less fans than Harry Potter did, but while Harry Potter made J.K. Rowling a billionnaire and a household name, TCV will earn her unsurpassed critical acclaim.
“Disgust rose in Samantha like vomit. She wanted to seize the over-warm cluttered room and mash it between her hands, until the royal china, and the gas fire, and the gilt-framed pictures of Miles broke into jagged pieces; then, with wizened and painted Maureen trapped and squalling inside the wreckage, she wanted to heave it, like a celestial shot-putter, away into the sunset. The crushed lounge and doomed crone inside it, soared in her imagination through the heavens, plunging into the limitless ocean, leaving Samantha alone in the endless stillness of the universe.”
I will warn you. The book’s sordid. The characters are disgusting, with no single protagonist to cling to. Almost absolutely unlikeable. And the ending will do nothing to redeem them in your eyes. But you will still love every minute of it. It’s not Harry Potter, but it’s just as good. Highly recommended.
“The sky was a cold iron-grey, like the underside of a shield. A sharp breeze lifted the hems of skirts and rattled the leaves on the immature trees; a spiteful, chill wind that sought out your weakest places, the nape of your neck and your knees, and which denied you the comfort of dreaming, of retreating a little from reality.”