September 14th, 2014

new romantic.

Review: The Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling

The Casual Vacancy
by J. K. Rowling

The little town of Pagford seems like a quintessential English village, but when parish council member Barry Fairbrother dies suddenly the town’s peace is shattered. Rival political factions begin to campaign to fill Barry’s open seat with a candidate of their choice, while the children of the council members begin spreading rumors about their parents to further their own agendas. Meanwhile, a social worker named Kay tries to convince the council to save Bellchapel, a drug clinic that is the last hope for many desperate cases, like that of Krystal Weedon, a desperately poor girl struggling to raise her three-year-old brother as her mother fails to break her heroin addiction.

This is a darkly funny novel, pointing out the many absurdities of small town life. But it’s also a meaty story that deals with a lot of controversial themes: teen sex, drug addiction, rape, self-harm, domestic and child abuse, suicide, and racism. This microcosm of social issues reveals the hundreds of petty ways that people poke at each other’s miseries, lashing out and striking back. It highlights the almost casual way that a life can be ruined and the ease of which responsibility is discarded. It takes the concept of “It takes a village to raise a child” and flips it on its head, illustrating exactly how a village can ruin a child, too.

It’s quite shocking from the author of Harry Potter. There’s an earthiness to the writing that is simply worlds away from Hogwarts, but equally delightful. Take this descriptive passage, for example:
He was an extravagantly obese man of sixty-four. A great apron of stomach fell so far down in front of his thighs that most people thought instantly of his penis when they first clapped eyes on him, wondering when he had last seen it, how he washed it, how he managed to perform any of the acts for which a penis is designed.
It’s perfect. I can imagine exactly the sort of man’s body she means, but these sentences are not at all something I would expect from J. K. Rowling.

It’s not always an enjoyable story, per se. A lot of really bad stuff happens, after all. The most tragic case is that of Krystal Weedon, a poor girl who lacks the skills to better herself and can’t gain the sympathy of others because “everyone knows” that Weedons are trouble. As her life spirals increasingly out of control, you want her to find a way to break the cycle of poverty – but she’s often so abrasive, impulsive and cruel that it’s a struggle to remain sympathetic. Another girl, Sukhvinder, faces so much pressure from her family and classmates that she only finds relief in cutting herself. Another boy struggles to protect his mother, younger brother and himself from his father’s abusive rages. You want an adult to step in and help these poor kids, but of course it’s all happening behind closed doors and the rest of the town has no idea.

I’m rambling a bit, sorry. Let me get back on track. Is it a good book? Yes. It is a great study of a small community and the prejudices and passions of the individuals living in it. Is it anything like Harry Potter? No, not really. Rowling took her writing in a totally different direction for this book, and it is fun to see just how different it can be from her famous series.

4 out of 5 stars

To read more about The Casual Vacancy, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.

Peeking into the in:
2013: A Nearly Perfect Copy by Allison Amend
2012: Madame Serpent by Jean Plaidy
2011: Little Princes by Conor Grennan
2010: The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson #1) by Rick Riordan
2009: Vacation: In Yosemite
2008: Win a copy of Guernica by Dave Boling!