30 October 2012

The Casual Vacancy (JK Rowling)

It’s JK Rowling, one of the finest young adult authors in the world, writing for adults. What can possibly go wrong?

Quite a bit, it turns out. The New York Times sums it up: "This novel for adults is filled with a variety of people like Harry [Potter]’s aunt and uncle, Petunia and Vernon Dursley: self-absorbed, small-minded, snobbish and judgmental folks, whose stories neither engage nor transport us."

Set in the fictional village of Pagford, The Casual Vacancy refers to a spot on the parish council, made vacant by the death of council member Barry Fairbrother. It chronicles (in detail) the political squabbles exacerbated by Fairbrother’s death and class tensions in Pagford – but it does so with such darkness that there’s no way it can be considered comedic. It’s not Jilly Cooper. Not even Christos Tsiolkas.

To illustrate, there’s suicide, rape, heroin addiction, beatings and racism; there is a sex scene in a cemetery; and there are alarming scenes of domestic abuse. Rich fight with poor, teenagers fight with their parents, wives fight with their husbands, and teachers fight with their pupils...

Granted, the writing is intelligent and the characters finely wrought, but there’s no-one to like. And the plot is, in a word, odd. I didn’t love it. In fact, I was relieved when it was over – not because JK Rowling doesn’t write well, but because this novel depressed the hell out of me.

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