It doesn’t matter that J.K. Rowling is the author of the Harry Potter blockbusters. This is her debut novel in adult fiction, not to be compared with middle grade fantasy. Yet before the first page is turned (or stroked, if you are a kindle reader) we have certain expectations. This is J.K.
The novel is set in the little town of Pagford and opens with Barry Fairbrother, (in his early forties.) He has just written, finished and sent an article to the local paper and is going out to dinner with his wife for their anniversary. He dies on page five and I can tell you this, he is the nicest person in the book. By nicest, I mean we never get to see his bitter, petty and narrow-minded side. We will however, explore in much detail and with heavy narrative, the minds of every other citizen of Pagford affected by the divide that Barry’s death propels. Barry’s vacant seat on the council becomes the center of a downward spiral and eventual implosion of the class struggling Pagford.
The cast and plot center round the efforts of those who wish to oust the rundown, drug infested, crime-riddled housing estate called The Fields. Giving its welfare responsibility to the bigger, neighboring town, of Yarvil. Along with freeing themselves of the social burden of a welfare estate, they wish to rid themselves of a much used drug rehabilitation center - a building owned by the town of Pagford. They are pitted against those that want to follow in the footsteps of Barry Fairbrother to help, encourage, and change the dark and dreadful lives of the residents of The Fields.
The reviews have been mixed. Credit is given to J.K. Rowling for tapping into the emotions, and motivations of the teenagers as they struggle to find their identity and value in their family and town. Rowling has taken on just about every social sickness known in today’s society. From incest and rape to drug abuse and hatred, she tackles it all. Some say, maybe too much without any hope or light. In one triumphant moment at the end of the novel, written in flashback, there is hope. But it is undeniably, too late.
Overall, she has written a book that is as deep and complex as Zadie Smith’s White Teeth, and while “White Teeth revels in the ecstatic hodgepodge of modern life, flirting with disaster, confounding expectations, and embracing the comedy of daily existence,” JK does not flirt. She goes all the way and brings this town to the stark reality, that when given the choice to ignore, indeed cast off, all moral and social responsibilities, the benefits, benefit no one.
Warning, if you're squeamish in the colorful language department, this is not for you. Ms Rowling has made up for years of restraint writing MG fantasy and let rip with a vengeance.
I recommend reading this book on a kindle, you will be highlighting and sharing all the way.If not, have a dictionary on hand. It can be heavy and laborious, and certainly gives you much to mull over.
If you've already read the Casual Vacancy? Please comment. Books, like art, are subjective and I would love to hear what you think. Adored or abandoned it, let me know!
Next on the list. The Light Between Oceans, by M.L. Stedman.