Monday, November 12, 2012

The Casual Vacancy: Review and Extract




I want you to do me a favour  - and just forget who the author is.  Forget what she has written in the past and whether or not you loved / hated / were forced to read it.  The people who I have spoken to about this book all seem to hate it without actually giving it a chance.  'Oh, I've heard that it's rubbish' is their automatic response when I say that I am reading it.  Is it because there aren't any mentions of wizards or Hogwarts?  Or because with all the swearing, masturbating, and drug use it seems as if J.K. Rowling was trying a bit too hard to distance herself from a certain boy wizard...I don't know....but I decided to find out what all the fuss was about.

The Casual Vacancy is a story about the muggles.  Ordinary people, living ordinary lives, in a small town by the name of Pagford.   It appears to be a thriving small town community in the English countryside but when you stare at the small cottages long enough you can see the curtains twitch; neighbours watching neighbours, fraught with jealousy, rivalry, and badly concealed racism.   The local council estate - The Fields is introduced as that dodgy place you drive through on the bus route, with its boarded up windows, graffiti, and dirty terrace blocks.  It certainly isn't the place you would choose to live, as the neighbouring villages of Pagford and  fighting over who is responsible for this mess on their otherwise idyllic village.

When Barry Fairbrother, the liberal chair of the parish council dies in the opening chapter, this creates what is termed a 'casual vacancy' on the board.  Barry, who had been raised in The Fields himself, is more sympathetic to the plight of the children and people living there than his opposition on the board, who see his death as a brilliant excuse to finally rid themselves of being responsible for the black-mark on their town.  

Personally, what I loved the most about Harry Potter (someone had to mention it) was the character descriptions.  These characters came alive on the page because of how J.K. Rowling described them and this is still very much alive and kicking in The Casual Vacancy.  As we work our way through the streets of Pagford - from those at the top of the career ladder to those who have never even stepped on to it, each character is described with such vivid detail that they come alive on the page.  These are people that you are likely to have encountered yourself, and you smirk, or sympathise with them accordingly.

I do not, however, believe that this is truly a book for adults.  Yes, it certainly does deal with adult themes, and is harrowing in parts, but just as the likes of Jacqueline Wilson write about adult themes they do so in a way which is accessible for children and young adults to understand but also in a way which is sometimes obvious to adults.  Pagford is a real town, this isn't magic anymore, and whilst an adult reader would accept this immediately, Rowling reiterates the point so many times that it almost loses its realism.  You're almost waiting for her to say...'A HA! This is in fact a novel which Ron Weasley's dad has been working on for the Ministry of Magic - to help wizards understand the struggle of the ordinary muggle!'

That isn't to say, however, that this doesn't make for interesting reading, Rowling's character descriptions, even if at times they may be reminisicent of those we met in the Harry Potter series never fail to delight in their biting truthfulness.   There are times when you really feel for the characters that she has created; and I believe that it is that ability to make such relatable characters which holds the key to her success with Harry Potter and what stops The Casual Vacancy from being just any old novel, and being a good novel instead.


 
 
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5 comments

Bookworm said...

I've just ordered this book and - like you - I plan to forget about HP and give it a fair chance.

Unpublished Life said...

Interestingly, apparently this book is up for a worst sex-writing award ... I read an article on it last week and it is pretty bad. Likening lady parts to Father Christmas is never going to be okay!

http://unpublishedworksofme.blogspot.co.uk/

Louise from: //This Book Is Reserved// said...

hahaha I didn't even know that there was such an award! *googles*

Louise from: //This Book Is Reserved// said...

yay! let me know how you get on / whether you like it :)

Alice said...

I thought the same; brilliant characters, but not really an adult book, more teenage.

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