This was always going to be one of the biggest selling books of 2012. It was eagerly anticipated by potter fans everywhere; The Casual Vacancy had a great deal of hype to live up to. Before reading the novel, written for adults, I’d seen the onslaught of criticism from the right wing media spitting that it wasn’t to their taste “ … more than 500 pages of relentless socialist manifesto, masquerading as literature, crammed down your throat” (Daily Mail – Jan Moir) I’d come to terms with the fact that there wasn’t going to be any magical creatures but there would however be swear words and violence. It is a brave step for someone which such a successful career, particular for someone know as a childrens author. She didn’t need to tackle such risky issues as she does in this book, with her millions she could remove herself from normal society completely if she so wished but she didn’t … and JK Rowling doesn’t do things by halves.
This is a story that deals with the ever controversial subject of class, featuring the well known working class (or should I say under class) back drop of an estate and contrasts this with a quintessential English village. Set in a small town called Pagford somewhere in the West Country, it follows a cross section of the community, ensuring a diverse range attitudes and moral compasses pointing in very different directions. These two polar opposite worlds collide through a parish council and catchment area. It attempts to show differing perspectives and life situations as the community deals with the death of Barry Fairbrother, who was a pillar of the community and someone who had experienced both life on the estate (the fields) and in Pagford. It is a very ambitious project offering up many of society’s taboos for the reader to digest. This book is not afraid to talk about teenage sex nor is it afraid to talk about casual racism.
Whether we’d like to admit it or not we all have something in common with these highly stereotyped characters. Whilst reading I often caught myself sympathising with and understanding characters that I’d never imagined I’d be able to connect with. I was often reminded of Mark Hadden’s no nonsense, gritty style especially when dealing with issues such as sex, drugs and violence. All of which are here as bold and blunt as they are in real life, but unlike some critics I didn’t find this to be shocking or vulgar but refreshing. It’s exciting that an author in such an influential position is ready and willing to actually, tell it like it is. This story is relevant and all too familiar to anyone who has lived in a town like Pagford.
On paper the idea of this books seems, for want of a better word, boring. It’s set in a small town and is centred on a parish council electing a new member, I mean how dark can it be? Without one central character your thrown into the lives of a society all struggling with very different issues. This books main premise is that no one is trouble free and when bad things happen we all have our part to play. The teenagers opinions and behaviour reeks of authenticity, representing in many ways our primal desires and instincts. The literary elite has often written Rowling off for her sometimes less than scholarly use of the English language but I do think you would be hard pushed to find a better story teller than she. She finds away to create a sympathetic side to even the most dastardly of characters.
After putting down The Casual Vacancy I felt the same familiar loss I did when finishing the Potter’s. The characters I’d become so attached to where gone from my commute to work and the stolen quiet moments before bed, I was moved. It has been said that JK will write another children’s books next, I hope that this does not mean that we don’t have another adult novel to look forward to. Sitting perfectly between hard hitting social commentators and traditional story tellers, JK has written a book that will change the way you look at your community. It’s an encouragement to reflect on how we treat each other. I hope JK Rowling the adult writer is here to stay because we need her. This is a book that, when people look back through history in years to come, will tell them what it was truly like, warts and all.
A note for JK’s new critics who doubt and criticise this book, if you don’t get then be rest assured it wasn’t written for you. JK wrote this book because she had something to say, she’s admitted that she wouldn’t write ever again unless she thought there was a story worth telling. A message that needs to get across.
‘There’s only one reason to write now: for me,’ JK Rowling