When Barry Fairbrother dies in his early forties, the town of Pagford is left in shock. Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, but what lies behind the pretty façade is a town at war. Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils…Pagford is not what it first seems. And the empty seat left by Barry on the parish council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen. Who will triumph in an election fraught with passion, duplicity and unexpected revelations?
The Casual Vacancy, one of the most highly anticipated titles of the year. I was both nervous and excited about starting it. I was thrilled when I heard the news that J.K. Rowling was writing a novel for adults. I think it was the right direction for her to take as a children’s novel so soon would have been instantly judged against Harry Potter. I was nervous because I know I wouldn’t have picked it up based on the title, cover or blurb (one of which usually appeals to people before they pick up a book!), yet this made it incredibly exciting because I really didn’t know what to expect. I had assumed, for some reason, that it’d be ‘literary fiction’, yet it is quite far from that, which is by no means a criticism. I’m still unsure as to what genre it comes under exactly, but if it were a TV show, it’d definitely be a drama. And it works surprisingly well.
The Casual Vacancy has a multitude of characters, each equally fascinating and distinctive. I wasn’t too sure whether I’d be able to keep track of all of them but J.K. Rowling is so meticulous about her detail and description (something I now realise I should have expected) that I quickly got to know each character well. Perhaps it is full of contrived, stereotypical characters, but perhaps that’s the point. We fit people into social categories, like Miles the pompous, smug, middle class man who’s deeply involved in politics, to Krystal, the girl from the drug-addicted family who lives in the poorest, deprived area in Pagford.
But The Casual Vacancy isn’t just about class, it’s about society as a whole and portrays nearly all of the expected conflicts, from the personal to the societal, between family, friends, colleagues, neighbours, classmates, genders. Pagford is a close community. Its citizens’ lies are entwined, often much to their dismay. There’s dramatic twists and unexpected melodrama. I had to continue reading to the very end, even though it was past midnight, once I’d reached the climax of the story.
I think it’s unfair to compare The Casual Vacancy to Harry Potter, even it will be (and I’m looking forward to finally reading the reviews). It’s for a different readership and tells a completely different story, with the exception that characters are at the heart of both stories.
I couldn’t help but find The Casual Vacancy utterly entertaining. It’s the best way to describe it; it’s not going to change the world, but it does an excellent job of showing us how we see it.