It’s been a long time coming but after a fortunate Christmas present I have finally got round to reading J.K. Rowling’s venture into the world of adult literature. As a fan of Harry Potter for as a long as I can remember, (even queuing outside the bookshop at midnight for the final instalment!), I wasn’t sure how I would feel about this new novel.
Released in September 2012, due to eager anticipation and tight-lipped publicity, The Casual Vacancy was an instant bestseller. Rowling turned her attention far from the world of witchcraft and wizardry, and into a tragicomedy for adult readers.
I found The Casual Vacancy a bit of a slow starter, challenging to get into and a struggle to see where it was going. But as the intertwining stories are unravelled you’re hooked and can’t wait to fit the pieces together. As a whole I would say I was pleasantly surprised, like a true literary master Rowling takes to this new style like a pro – Not a whisper of the childlike Potter-esque voice to be heard.
The novel is set in the idyllic village of Pagford, but underneath the superficial tourist-friendly façade hides an underbelly of a much darker reality. The title of the book comes from an opening on the Parish council, after the death of the heroic Barry Fairbrother.
Fairbrother’s legacy is a noble mission to integrate the children of the nearby Field’s estate into the privileges of Pagford. His efforts centred on the teenage Krystal Weedon, a desperate character, left raising her younger brother in squalor, as her mother pays for her drug addiction through prostitution. Barry serves as a moral centre for the novel, a driving contrast to the nastiness which emerges around his death.
Driven by the open vacancy, Pagford loyalists are attempting to stop the evasive Fields from encroaching on their prestigious Pagford. The debate rages, with a struggle between the respectable village residents and the underclass of the estate. The elections heat up following accusations posted on the Parish council website, under the pseudonym ‘The Ghost of Barry Fairbrother’, which threatens to tear apart the candidates.
Although superficial in nature, a fierce, urgent battle rages, which is well portrayed by Rowling. The realities of drugs, bullying, and racism arise, contrasting the snobbery of Pagford. A stark contrast to the warmth and charm of Harry Potter, the Vacancy’s characters are a misfit of misery and deceit. Even seemingly simple characters are hiding something more complex, provoking you to question your judgements.
Now I’m not claiming anything prophetic from the Vacancy, but these are well-constructed, normal, and relatable characters. The underground secrets of Pagford are awash with realism, and I’m sure they echo the truths of any political party, big or small.
There’s a marked determination to reach the centre of what is reality, dealing with topics which are considered a raw nerve in most forums. Unafraid of vigorous language and brutal honesty, Rowling tackles the serious undercurrents of society.