In the pursuit of satisfying a reader’s quest for what he or she really hopes to read in a book, there are some authors who manage to give their books identities which are bigger than their own. The Casual Vacancy is definitely not one of these. However, one must remember that neither Sherlock Holmes or for that matter, Harry Potter, have created their own selves. Having said that, The Casual Vacancy‘s biggest triumph will only remain in the fact that it has been written by the same author who convinced us that a magical world did exist, even though we knew it was imaginary.
As one progresses through this book, one will be bound to think that in an attempt of writing adult fiction, J.K. Rowling has taken the word ‘adult’ quite literally. In a small town where one expects to see elements which are typical of a British lifestyle, one is shocked to see parents swearing at their children (and vice versa), drug peddling, narcoticism and acute (and sometimes unnecessary) teenage rebellion. Readers will have to make peace with the fact that with each page, they will be drawn more and more into a world where only Muggles exist. Therefore, it is surprising how the reader is not able to relate to this ‘real’ world as much as the imaginary world that Harry Potter lived in.
The story is set in the small town of Pagford where councillor Barry Fairbrother’s sudden death creates a casual vacancy in the Parish council. From here on, we read about character after character which seems like the protagonist at first but in reality, is as important (or insignificant) as the last. There is the fearless Krystal Weedon who lives with her drug-addict mother and baby brother. The two best friends, Andrew Price and Stuart ‘Fats’ Wall seem like two of the main characters in the book but sadly, they are just boys who are hitting puberty. The Mollisons, Howard and Shirley, along with their son and daughter-in-law, Miles and Samantha form the who’s who of Pagford. At the end of the book, one doesn’t warm up to any of the characters and nor does one sympathize with any of them. Even the melancholic note at which this book ends hardly manages to evoke any strong emotion within the reader. To sum it up, Rowling has expertly played with her characters but instead of developing through the story, they are reduced to a bunch of myriad caricatures.
The narrative is as cobbled as the streets of Pagford. It is slow and in places, it is stretched needlessly. The strongest point about this book is that some of it still smells of the author’s typical writing style. The reader hence welcomes the little bits of humour and wisdom which are sprinkled throughout the book. The way that most of the chapters end are Rowling-esque in style and will be hugely appreciated. It is highly evident that readers who haven’t read the Harry Potter series will enjoy this book more than J.K. Rowling loyalists who will seek a bit of the wizarding world in this book. All in all, one has to appreciate the fact that this is a big step that the author has taken. Writing something like the Harry Potter series is not possible with every attempt and at the end of the day, no one can take that away from Rowling.
There’s still hope left since this isn’t Rowling’s last work of fiction. Hopefully, there will be no more stories around Pagford and we will get to see a little bit more of the author most of us have loved and cherished. As far as her forthcoming books are concerned, lumos, let there be light.