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[644] The Casual Vacancy – J.K. Rowling


” Things denied, things untold, things hidden and disguised. “

Set in a fictional English village, The Casual Vacancy, J.K. Rowling’s first venture into (adult) general fiction, chronicles the political and personal fallout that ensues after the sudden death of a member of the parish council, Barry Fairbrother. The book explores what the loss of Barry Fairbrother would mean to the town of Pagford and to the people close to him—and how they manage to accommodate this huge ragged absence.

It frightened people when you were honest; it shocked them.

With Barry’s death, various candidates stand for the parish council election, which sets the whole soapy drama going. The narrative switches its attention between a few families from which candidates come forth to stand for election. Colin Wall, a head deputy whose obsessive compulsive disorder torments him with the idea he has sexually abused his students. Simon Price, a contented prisoner of his own contempt for other people, beats his wife and two sons. Howard Mollison, a right-wing delicatessen owner, and his status-conscious wife, Shirley, are the dark forces scheming to overturn Barry’s work—to de-annex a problematic slum section of Pagford. Howard’s son, Miles Mollison, a solicitor, is acting in his father’s interest by running for council. The goal is to expel the hated Fields, a run-down sink estate with its drug rehabilitation clinic, thereby off-loading responsibility for its drug-addled inhabitants.

Howard and Shirley were clothed, always, in an invisible layer of decorum that they never laid aside.

So in short, everyone here is out to do down someone else, including the children, who are plotting revenge on their parents in an insidious manner. Lying at the heart of this claustrophobic town is the Weedon, a single-mother family living in the Fields with a long history of drug addiction and abuse. The teenage daughter, Krystal, is involved with Kay, the newly arrived social worker who is the conduit between Pagford’s charming cobbled streets and Fields, whose bucolic name belies a wasteland of raucously neglected minors. There’s also the judicial, stern Minda Parminder, the town doctor of Indian descent who doesn’t know her daughter is harming herself.

Howard and Shirley were clothed, always, in an invisible layer of decorum that they never laid aside.

The Casual Vacancy is good but not great. It’s not an unforgettable book. It captures that small-town pettiness and close mindedness with unflinching details. Pagford’s residents are stripped to their bare bone—a place of seething antagonism, rampant snobbery, sexual frustration, and ill-disguised racism. Rowling is probably more at home dealing with the teenage characters, their yearnings and friendships. The book is not bad but it is overwritten for the message it delivers—social responsibility. It loses its shape toward the end in its fury at the dirty and unfair politics. Rowling could use some editing.

503 pp. Little, Brown and Company. Paper. [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow]


2 Responses

  1. Um yeah. That is what I’ve heard over and over again…good but not great, so I passed this one by. I did read The Cuckoo’s Calling, written under her pen name, and I really enjoyed it. I’m pretty excited for more of that series.

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