I mentioned in an earlier post that I would no longer be doing the Goodreads Challenge, so I will no longer be keeping track of my Monthly Reads (you can click that link there if you’d like to check out my Monthly Reads from 2016). However, I will still be doing the Kate’s Books series, which I started back in April 2016 to review books which left a strong enough impression on me that I felt like I had to write individual reviews.
And today, I’ll be reviewing a book I’d been meaning to read for a long time, but which I never bothered to pick up until now (because life happens, ugh): The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling.
The Casual Vacancy is J.K. Rowling’s first adult novel, hot on the heels of her wildly successful Harry Potter series. It takes place in a small town in the U.K. called Pagford, and revolves around a local election which needs to be held after one of their councilors, Barry Fairbrother, dies of a brain aneurysm.
It sounds like rather boring stuff, doesn’t it? Sort of like what Dudley Dursley’s world would be like after Harry Potter goes swanning off and has all his death-defying adventures. But that assessment couldn’t be further from the truth. Underneath the genteel facade, a war is brewing in Pagford.
Located next to this quaint, picture-perfect, quintessentially British town is a less-than-desirable area known as the Fields – you know, one of those neighborhoods sinking deeper and deeper into abject poverty. With the typical snobbery and apathy of the the middle class, the well-off residents of Pagford want nothing to do with the Fields, and want responsibility of the area transferred to the more affluent city Yarvil. Unfortunately for them, Barry Fairbrother and his fellow councilor Dr. Parminder Jawanda have strongly opposed the transfer of the Fields to Yarvil. With Fairbrother’s death, others on the council – Howard Mollison, leader of the parish council, for example – begin to think that getting an anti-Fields person to be elected is the best way to resolve the debate once and for all.
Interwoven through this story of the political and social struggle of a small town are the follies and foibles of its children: actual edgelord Stuart “Fats” Wall, outcast Sukhvinder Jawanda, bombshell Gaia Bawden, troubled Krystal Weedon struggling with a heroin-addicted mother, and abused son Andrew Price.
With a diverse cast of characters ranging from benign to malignant, The Casual Vacancy is no magical fairy tale, but is nothing less than the study of the human condition, and a peek into the darkest depths of what a person is capable of.
What I liked:
- Honestly, I liked the fact that The Casual Vacancy is a character-driven story. At first, it was difficult to keep track of who was who, but once I got them straight, it was so fascinating. I loved how everyone’s stories were interwoven, how everyone’s foibles and troubles were connected into one bigger narrative. You could really feel the environment of a small, enclosed town where everyone knows everyone.
- The issue of the Fields and the people from Pagford who want nothing to do with them is something that’s very relevant nowadays, especially here in the Philippines. In The Casual Vacancy, people have no empathy for the poor and drug-addicted who live in the Fields, thinking – as most comfortably middle-class people think about those less fortunate than them – that they’re lazy, or simply not trying hard enough. That situation is very similar to the political climate here in the Philippines, where persecution and outright murder of the poor and those addicted to drugs is not just supported by ignorant members of the middle-class, but encouraged by the government.
- I love how absolutely no one in this book can truly be considered a “good” character (except, perhaps, Kay Bawden, the only one in a series of social workers who achieves even the slightest modicum of success with the embattled Krystal Weedon). Everyone is at turns selfish, rude, condescending, petty, arrogant, entitled, and ignorant – all while not totally being absolutely evil, reprehensible people. Like I said earlier, it’s a very accurate portrayal of the human condition.
What I didn’t like:
- I already mentioned it, but at first it was very hard to keep track of the whole cast of characters. I was forever flipping back to previous chapters because I couldn’t remember a name or description.
- If you’re the type of person who likes plotty books, this isn’t the read for you. Things don’t really get fast-paced until around halfway through the book, when campaigning for the election of Barry Fairbrother’s replacement starts.
5/5. A compelling novel about society and all its flaws and perfections, it’s a great read for anyone looking for something that shows the darker side of the supposedly idyllic countryside life.