The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling (Little, Brown)
So, “a big novel about small town politics”, the Casual Vacancy is all about the little town of Pagford in the UK.
The people of Pagford form the core of this character driven novel, and although nothing spectacular happens (no explosions, no mind blowing sex, no exciting car chases or romantic gestures), one you get into the book, you’re sure to be hooked by issues of corruption, abuse, affairs, teenage angst and the usual ups and down of human relationships.
When Barry Fairbrother suddenly dies, there is an empty seat on the Parish council. And this is when the seemingly perfect lives of those in Pagford are turned upside down, as families, couples, parents and children all make it their mission to get their chosen one onto the town council.
As a character driven novel it was difficult at first to really get into the book. It takes a good few chapters to get to know all the different characters. I knew that I liked it, but I wasn’t hooked immediately, and I had to push myself to read further.
I’m glad I did – because once you get to know the characters, you really become hooked on their lives.
Hooked or not, the fact is that their lives are actually just plain ordinary. No one is spectacularly rich, or blindingly beautiful, and they don’t live in lavish houses and drive sports cars and wear only the best clothing. They are just average people.
Perhaps after the success of Harry Potter, and the extreme fantasy world in which those books took place, J.K Rowling was determined to create a world that is quite the opposite of Hogwarts. No fantasy, no fluffy feel good moments. Just pure, raw human beings living their lives.
But it is this supposed “boringness” of the novel that actually gets you hooked. As you get to know the characters, you can’t help but to wonder what will happen to all of them.
As the book progresses, you realise that they are all in some way or another connected to each other, and their actions influence and affect the lives of those around them in ways unbeknown to them.
The drug addict from the poor side of town has, without knowing it, an inextricable link to the daughter of the local town doctor.
Since it is a character driven novel, it was interesting to find that none of the characters are extremely likeable, in the sense that there is no one hero/heroine that does only good, and no one villain that does bad.
Each character does seem to have something good in them and a little bit of bad – and, mostly, you understand why they are the way they are.
Like the bored, lonely housewife, who watches her daughter’s boy band dvd’s for a little bit of excitement, and can’t help keeping her eyes off the acne ridden teenage son of one of the meanest men in town.
The mix of teenage and grown up characters makes this book the perfect read for the now 20-something generation that saw the birth of Harry Potter, and their parents.
No one is excluded, except those that are expecting a Harry Potter spin off. In fact, the only correlations between this book and Harry Potter is the fact that it takes place in a small town in Britain.
And, just like with dear old Harry Potter, I sincerely wish that J.K doesn’t end with The Casual Vacancy. Her writing is brilliant and witty, and she knows what she’s talking about. The worlds that she creates, whether real or magical, are places that I could read about forever.
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