Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowllng

J.K. Rowling is a British author best known for her series of young adult books about a young man with magical powers and an implacable enemy. The Casual Vacancy is her first novel written for an adult audience.

In England, as Rowling's beginning headnote explains a casual vacancy is "deemed to occurred: (a) when a local councillor fails to make his declaration of acceptance of office within the proper time; or...on the day of his death...." The story begins when one of Pagford's councillor's drops dead. The main story is the struggle among some residents of this perfectly charming English village to hold back (as they see it) the forces of drugs, crime, and the chaos from the neighboring town and other residents to bring the village into the 21st century and actually deal with the effects of poverty, unemployment, and addiction.

The book has a huge cast of characters--eight families, most with spouses, some with children and there are relationships of one sort or another among almost all the characters. I did not find one of the adult characters sympathetic. The five children in the novel, four teen-agers and a three-year-old, are mostly put upon rather than unpleasant; the adults are mostly small-minded, addled, or vicious. I did finish the book even though I could not care about any of the characters because I wanted to see what finally happened.

Rowling does a couple of things that most writers cannot get away with: changing point of view within a chapter or on a page and inserting flashbacks set off by parentheses. She does this three times in the last 10 pages of the almost 500-page book. For example:

     They arrived as the hearses appeared at the top of the road and hurried into the graveyard while the pallbearers were shuffling out onto the pavement.
     ("Get away from the window," Colin Wall commanded his son.
     But Fats, who had to live henceforth with the knowledge of his own cowardice, moved forward, trying to prove that he could, at least, take this . . . )"

For another two paragraphs.

I wonder a couple things: Would Little, Brown have published the book if the author were not J.K. Rowling? And: Did the publisher try to edit the book and Rowling refuse the suggestions or did the editor accept it as is on the theory that Rowling's fans won't know or care how well or how poorly it is written or structured?

It's not a bad book. It does give a picture of contemporary small-town English life that seems to this outsider as deeply felt an accurate. It suggests that the lives of English children can be (are?) nasty, brutish, and (in some cases) short. Married couples, even those living comfortably in idyllic little villages, do not have satisfactory sex lives. I found it an unhappy book about unhappy people.

1 comment:

  1. The Casual Vacancy was a very far cry from Harry Potter. The writer has used an incident, namely a death, to bring out the social and political dynamics in a small fictitious English village. There is a scenario that would typify almost any rural community that is wholly weighed down with matters of local importance. The outside world does not matter to the inmates.

    The story is meandering and moves at a relaxed pace and it is not devoid of drama.
    The novel brings out the passions, the hatred, rivalries and resentment that fester in minds of the adults and children. Perhaps this pattern of interaction is applicable to all of humanity if only the scale were to differ. Every character is ensconced in his or her own little world and interacts and thinks accordingly. Maybe all humans are self centred to a large extent be they in a village or a metropolis.

    The feel of the book was nice and gossippy and one can easily lose oneself in it. However it did have its sad, even tragic moments.

    All-in-all the book is quite brilliant from one of the most evocative authors of modern times.