J.K. Rowling’s foray into adult fiction is surprisingly good albeit a little depressing. I have enjoyed the Harry Potter series for its concept and plot and never from a literary standpoint. This novel on the other hand is stronger on the language and structure whereas the plot is tepid.
The narrative starts with a Casual Vacancy-created by the death of a council member of a Pagford, small fictional town in England. We are quickly introduced to the central cast of characters as they react to this news. Inner motives, emotions and political ambitions are revealed. The burning issue that divides the town of Pagford is the presence of a small poverty ridden settlement of Fields which falls under Pagford county due to an accidental sale of land 60 years ago. The self-labelled genteel folks of Pagford have been keen ever since to hand off Fields to the neighbouring town along with its problems. As the dead man was the only crusader for the case FOR keeping Fields,the vacancy is quite coveted. Of course, nothing is what it looks like and everyone appears to be hiding a dirty little secret which are revealed by a voice beyond the grave – or so it would seem. The social situation is explained through the stories of different characters on either side of the Fields fence, in a manner of speaking. There is enough drama in the snoozing lives of this town to keep the reader going on with a strong temptation to skip half a dozen pages or so, every now and then.
The Casual Vacancy is a not so subtle commentary on the increasing disparity between the haves and have-nots, the confusion on effectiveness of government programs and deep prejudices that run in what has been an essentially a feudal society. However, there are times when it feels that J.K Rowling is trying too hard to make a point. All together they seem to work, but individually none of the characters are engaging. And there are so many of them. In a span of of the first fifty pages we are introduced to a dozen people that spot the social fabric of Pagford, and not one of them seem to be happy or healthy. It’s as if everyone in and around this little town is festering with frustrations and lost ambitions. Class clashes, domestic and sexual abuse, drug issue and racism abounds. Sometimes it appears to be too much and you keep flipping through hoping to catch the silver lining of the cloud. Is 21st century society in such a state of decline?
The only other note that I have that maybe this book could have been a hundred pages shorter. In fact, there are several character arcs that we could have done away entirely without impacting the story line !
It’s not one of the better novels that I have read, but it was not a waste of time. If you happen to find it in your reach, read it.