Sunday, 3 February 2013
The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling
Publisher: Little, Brown
Genre: Adult, Contemporary
The Casual Vacancy is a ‘sugar-free’ and bleak portrayal of community life in a small countryside town called Pagford in England. It begins with the death of Barry Fairbrother, a member of the parish council, whose death has a dominos-type effect on the people of the town.
I gave the novel 5 stars because I think it is very brave. JKR has tackled some tough, uncomfortable and controversial topics that most would shy away from. She gets us to look where we would prefer to look away. (I get that many others have done this before – but we are talking about JK Rowling!) I could not help but be moved by the stories of the “victims” (see below), especially the Weedons, Sukhvinder and even the horrid Stuart (Fats) Wall and his dad, Colin. I can see how some would be incensed by the way JKR attempted to justify the Weedon’s self-destructive and antisocial behaviour, but they were feasible to me. Parts of it made me laugh, too. I was amused by the way, one-by-one, three of the teenagers sought revenge on their parents and, although borderline creepy, by middle-aged mum Samantha’s obsession with Jake the boy-band member and the fiasco over the concert ticket.
The one problem I had with the book was the portrayal of the characters. Most of them came across as nasty, petty, mean and self-absorbed. The ones that weren’t were all portrayed as victims. On the one hand I commend JKR for showing the ugly side of human behaviour – I especially liked her insightful portrayal of the ‘gossip-mongers’ – but on the other hand I would have liked to see some redeeming qualities in at least some of these people. (It lacked subtlety in my view.) Instead, her portrayal of most of her characters is so scathing it felt as though she disliked them and was determined NOT to show ANY positive side of them. The only person who comes across as decent (or isn’t a victim) is Barry Fairbrother – the dead guy – and he was portrayed as Saint-like! In this sense for me the book is flawed.
I am not sure it is a book I would recommend (for reasons mentioned above) but I enjoyed it and I would say hats off to JK Rowling for taking a risk and writing it. Also, for speaking up for the Krystal Weedons of this world.
My appeal to readers