Wednesday, February 26, 2014

THE CASUAL VACANCY – J. K. Rowling

Irony – got up in the night with a migraine. Battled it with pain meds and ice packs for several hours until finally it subsided enough to enable reading a book. The Casual Vacancy on the shelf caught my eye so off I went to snuggle up with my cat and a blanket thinking about Rowling's first adult book. I had no idea a main character drops dead in the first chapter of a brain aneurism! At 3 in the morning with a pounding head let me tell you that seemed creepy and perhaps a little omen-ish. But I finished the book and am well so... false alarm.

In the small English town of Pagford there is much unrest. Many prominent people have serious personal issues and some are not who they pretend to be. We, as the reader get to see them in all their dented and tarnished glory. Written in third person with many characters to keep track of, there is no one to clearly identify with. No character is all good or all bad, nor are any without serious flaws. This book is mostly character study interjected with social issues magnified by anger, prejudice, and angst. It definitely has an edge. No pretty idyllic English quaintness at all. But I was hooked on the first page. The writing is wonderful and I loved the way Rowling slowly waltzes the reader into a man's life showing us his lovely wife and family, lets us see his angst at disappointing them and then BAM, the “casual vacancy” occurs. A casual vacancy occurs when a council member cannot finish his term because of resignation or death.

When a pillar of the small community, Berry Fairbrother, drops dead he leaves a beautiful young family, civic projects unfinished, and an open seat on the town council. Multiple battles and social skirmishes ensue. The rich snobs of the community seek an opportunity to rid themselves of the poor neighborhood which includes a methadone center by having it annexed to the nearby larger community. The local physician, a Muslim, battles prejudice in the community but also in herself with her inability to accept her imperfect child. A public school teacher battles his mental illness. A nurse tries to protect her children from her abusive husband. A councilman struggles to get his son elected in Fairbrother's place. A young girl desperately tries to save her brother from her prostitute-drug-addicted mother. A man battles his obesity and his obsession with young women. And that is only a sampling of the conflicts. No easy fixes or satisfying closure to be found in this book either but you will be intrigued and you will be forced to witness different vantage points of several social issues. I like that in a book and I did like this book. However, there were things I did not like and some very much. There was too much, and I would say, overdone teen sex, drugs, and alcohol. I am not averse to reading those things when they further the plot and seem to ring true but here it seemed like Rowling might be trying to make a point that she can write about current issues with grit and reality, but it didn't feel so to me, it felt unnecessary and contrived.

The characters are well written, the multiple plots intertwine well, and the writing style is much to my liking. I look forward to reading more of Rowling's adult lit if she polishes her work a bit. Possibly she should use a better editor? Could it be when an author is so popular less attention is given to making a work more readable? Not sure, but I am seeing more and more work recently which I and others feel are good but should have been better. All that being said I am still recommending this book to some friends. The cover art of my edition is very pleasing, looking a bit retro in black and yellow. The fancy font introducing each of the seven sections is a nice touch and the sections each emphasizing a basic plot meshing together is fun. A good work I say.


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