First things first, ‘The casual Vacancy’ is NOT in any way related to Harry potter. It is not a sequel, spin-off or anything else that might indicate any sort of connection between the two.
The Casual vacancy is J.K Rowling’s first adult novel. It takes place in a quaint little village called Pagford. With its cobblestone streets and community feeling, Pagford comes across as your typical English town. However, the village atmosphere itself is essential to carry forward the main themes of the story- War, Death and Social Hierarchy. And how in the greater scheme of everything, we end up compromising on things that are far more important, just to win our own personal battles.
The book is divided into seven parts. It opens with the death of an important man called Barry Fairbrother. His death is discussed, as if it were gossip, with both grief and morbid enthusiasm among the inhabitants of the small town. This leads to revelation of underlying bitterness in the minds of Pagfordians. The book is filled with petty wars and secret desires, which are brought into the open as a consequence of his death.
Pagford contains an area called ‘The Fields’. The Fields are notorious for being home to the poorest members of Pagford’s society, who live in dilapidated homes and indulge in shady activities to make both ends meet. The elite of Pagford are ashamed at the thought of having to include them as part of their lovely town and wish for The Fields to be delegated to Yarville, a large town, sharing borders with Pagford. This issue is the main concern of the Pagford Parish council, which remains equally divided on the matter. That is, till Barry Fairbrother’s death, which creates a casual vacancy for his place in the council.
Chaos ensues and a battle breaks out, with each party trying their best to get one of their own to fill the seat. The Anti-fielders argue that The Fields cast a dark shadow over Pagford’s perfect reputation and wastes too much of the town’s resources. The Pro-fielders oppose them by saying that the members of the fields can be helped. They say that Bellchapel Addiction clinic in the fields is of utmost importance and can give these so-called delinquents a new lease on life.
This results in a nasty game of politics, in which everyone is inadvertently forced to take part, irrespective of their stance or interest towards the matter.
In a nutshell, the book is one long dirty political battle.
The Casual vacancy is J.K Rowling’s first attempt at a different genre. And a very adult one, at that. I bought this book, fully aware of the fact that it is nothing like Harry Potter. I fully believed that I would be able to accept that and read this book without drawing comparisons or building expectations. But in spite of this, the book was very different from what I’d imagined it would be. And I found myself constantly wondering why J.K Rowling would write this after writing something as amazing as Harry Potter. It’s not that ‘The Casual Vacancy’ is a terrible book. But it certainly isn’t the best.
As I was reading the book, I constantly sensed that it was J.K.Rowling’s attempt to prove that she can write something else, something very different to Harry Potter. It’s as if she’s trying, quite hard, to shrug off the stereotypes surrounding her. This book has it all- Rape, Domestic Violence, Drug Abuse, Dirty politics, Prostitution, Self-Harm and Smoking. She also touches upon the subject of teenage sexuality in detail. And throws about swear words in nearly every sentence. Not all of it is necessary, to be honest. She sure could have toned it down a little bit.
The book certainly has its positives. It is beautifully written and I absolutely loved the characterization. I actually felt like I’d met the characters and it was as if I knew them in person. J.K.Rowling has once again proved that she has an imagination that is truly out of this world. The story is also well-drafted. It develops in an interesting way. And though there are reasons for you to stop reading the book, there are greater, more over powering reasons that ensure that you don’t. In spite of all the dirt that covers the main plot, you manage to uncover it all the same. And it is the story that manages to grasp your attention and tweak your curiosity to some extent. Though you will put the book down when you feel like you’ve had enough, you will end up coming back to it simply because you just need to know what happens.
The author is both the book’s greatest strength and weakness. For it is quite clear that, had it been written by anyone else, ‘The Casual Vacancy’ would have gone unnoticed. Gathering dust on book shelf counters. Only someone with a particular taste for a book of this kind would buy it, apart from a few others who like to read or those who might want to read this book “just to see how it is.” Some might read the summary and decide to buy it. A few libraries would stock up. Some might buy it because it was on sale. But it is clear that it would certainly have not sold at 125,000 copies in just it’s opening week, if not for the author. But it also means that most people out there have bought it only because of the author. Which implies that they have expectations and probably pre-conceived notions that will keep them away from being able to judge the book in fair light. That will keep them away from enjoying a moderately entertaining story that is hidden under layers and layers of unnecessary “adult-ness”.
‘The Casual Vacancy’ is a very different kind of book, and it will certainly find its fair share of fans. But it caters to only those with a certain kind of taste. It has the ability to shock yet enthrall, appall yet entertain, disgust yet enlighten. The story itself isn’t great. But it isn’t bad. I don’t regret reading it. But I don’t think I’d read it again. The book is worth a read if you can stomach it’s content.
As mentioned before, it seems like a desperate attempt by J.K. Rowling to be associated with something different; to crawl out of the niche that the literary society has built for her. To disconnect herself from the tags that label her as someone who can only write fantasies built on clouds. (Although why one might want to disassociate themselves with such a Harry Potter-esqe tag is beyond me!!) And if this was what she was attempting, she certainly has been able to achieve it. Because this book faces reality head-on and maybe that’s what is hardest to take in, knowing that this is how it really is and this is what we live with. A dark satirical comedy surrounding the world of dirty politics is what best describes the book. But nevertheless, it shows promise. Because she has proved to us, once again, that she is a great writer, with an amazing mind. She has stepped out to try something different. And while there is nothing wrong with that, I definitely wouldn’t call this an improvement. Maybe all this book needs … is a little bit of magic!! 🙂