Sunday 23 December 2012

A Casual Vacancy

A vacancy on the parish council of the small West Country community of Pagford arises following the sudden passing of the much admired Barry Fairbrother. The book in a nutshell: the ensuing election divides the community in a delicious, gossipy fashion.

J. K. Rowling and her juicy 'adult' novel. 

My initial reaction to the first few paragraphs of J. K. Rowling's first 'adult' novel: Goodness! How many social issues, adult themes and rude words can one cram into 400 odd pages?

"The Archers on amyl nitrate", wrote Alison Pearson of the Daily Telegraph. She's right. Rape, drug addiction, domestic abuse, prostitution, child neglect, self harm, adultery, dissatisfied wife infatuated with teenage boy band name it, J. K.'s included it. And rather a lot of swear words. I'm no prude but they somehow feel forced. I can't put my finger on why. Maybe because it is a palatable read despite it being packed to the hilt with gritty social issues. It was J. K.'s use of the 'C' word, not her portrayal of these issues, that made me wince. It's not a gritty read a la Trainspotting. Written in a similar, cosy style to her famous children's series, it is HP without the John William's score, if you catch my drift.

Halfway through I start to feel dragged down with endless descriptions of negativity and give the book a rest for a few days. But the lull doesn't last long and the pace soon picks up.

The characterisation is superb. A whole host of unsavoury characters connected to this Barry Fairbrother chap and the election cross paths with one another throughout the course of the novel. I found none of the characters admirable - overweight deli owner, Howard Mollison, and his stinky skin complaint coupled with his involuntary belching attacks. Ugh but utterly fantastic! His wife Shirley and her thirst for gossip, competing with Maureen, Howard's gravelly-voiced business partner, for her husband's attention. I could distinctly picture each character. A lot of reviewers seem to like teenager, Krystal Weedon, the driving force behind the novel, but I found her too stereotypical, mainly due to Rowling's use of dialogue to depict Krystal and others from the rundown Fields area. Did they have to be so dumbed down? More annoying characters include the spineless, non-commital Gavin who seriously needs to grow a pair and Parvinder who needs to chillax and appreciate her kids and handsome hubby. Oh and I have two words for Ruth - Get Rid!!

The most likeable character, in my opinion, was the Mollison's estranged daughter, Pat. She reminded me of a trouser suited version of Pat Butcher!

No one has much of a settled life. It seems every scene ends in disaster to the point I desperately wanted them all to get over themselves, but if they had there wouldn't be much of a story in this character driven novel. I couldn't care less about the election; I wanted to see how the characters transformed by the end of the novel. How they got over themselves, if indeed they did.

There was one unpalatable part of the book: that Social Services would allow Krystal's brother, a three year old child, to live with their heroin-addicted mother in complete squalor. The idea that this child has witnessed his mother doing you-know-what with the nasty drug pushing man (and I said I wasn't a prude; can't bring myself to type the word 'sex') so that he replicates the action upon a fellow tot at nursery is, to my mind, absurd. Absurd that the authorities didn't do more to take care of him. It makes the Eastenders storyline - Lexi being taken into care seem ludicrous. Living with Billy Mitchell and Lola would be paradise compared to the awful existence Krystal and her brother endure.

What is J. K.'s message? I don't know, but for me it was to not take loved ones for granted. We can be so short-sighted that it takes a major crisis, a huge meltdown, a build up of immense stress and tension for us to break down and realise what we have. To simplify life in order to enjoy a more serene and harmonious existence. It takes a tragedy for the characters to evaluate their lives, behaviour, actions, the lot.

Whilst serious issues are embraced I cannot stop thinking of the comical, farcical aspects of the book. It really is like reading a soap opera. I love the gossipy, snobby, dysfunctional nature of the central characters and think it will make for a superb TV series. I can just see it now and think it will be better than the book.

I will be watching.

Glynis x

Glynis's rating:

The Casual Vacancy
3 of 5 stars true


  1. Nice review! I am looking forward to the TV series. I was so happy to have met JK when she promoted the book in NYC. :)

  2. Thanks :) The TV series will be great. Lucky you to meet her, she's one talented lady. I love her characters but hope I wasn't too scathing! Still unsure about the book but it certainly is memorable. Looking forward to her next creation.