Thursday, 29 November 2012
Book Review: The Casual Vacancy by J K Rowling
Author: J K Rowling
Published by: Little Brown
Date published: 2012
Length: 503 pages
Genres: Tragedy, Comedy, Status, Social Issues, Politics, Poverty, Contemporary, Adult Fiction
The Synopsis: When Barry Fairbrother dies in his early forties, the town of Pagford is left in shock. Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abby, but what lies behind the pretty facade is a town at war. Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils...Pagford is not what it first seems. And the empty seat left by Barry on the parish council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen. Who will triumph in an election fraught with passions, duplicity and unexpected revelations? A big novel about a small town. The Casual Vacancy is J.K. Rowling's first novel for adults. It is the work of a storyteller like no other.
Plot & Pace - There is no doubting JK Rowling's writing ability but somewhere along the line with this book, her magic has fallen short. If you're looking for another Harry Potter, forget it! This is as far removed from Harry Potter as you can get.
The basic storyline is pretty much summarised well in the synopsis; Barry Fairbrother, a member of the Parish Council, suddenly dies, leaving an empty seat, a 'casual vacancy', which becomes the talk of the town. This is the first part of the book; his death and the development of the various characters in and around Pagford. 250 pages worth of multiple characters; the majority of whom are painfully stereotyped and are hard to keep track of within a somewhat dis-interesting main plot that tries to link them all together. That said, you do have to give credit to Rowling for that; connecting each and every character to each other, no matter how weak the link is. It reflects real life, whereby numerous persons drop in and out and though you may only meet a person once, it can still impact upon your life. However, half the book is taken up with getting to know them and so you never really sink your teeth into the main story. You're constantly waiting for something to happen.
The plot improves ever so slightly in the second part; the big build-up to the election. This is where the little secrets and gossip of a small town really comes to light. Dare I say, it began to get interesting. Though there are multiple characters, each has quite a distinctive personality that builds over the course of the book. This eventually was what kept reading until part two, despite the fact you could foresee what the ending would have in store for all characters concerned By the closing of the book, the person you want to win the election wins, the person you want to loose the election looses and though there are a few grumbles amongst the residents of Pagford everyone is quite contempt. Hardly the most imaginative ending of the century.
Characters - OK, here's my attempt at providing a short insight into the many main characters in the book. Barry Fairbrother is the principal character. A small, dumpy, cheerful man which though may irritate a few others with his passionate opinions, manners and optimism, is generally well-liked and has good intentions. He has a wife, Mary and four children.
Out of all the characters in the book the following stand for election: Miles Mollison, Colin 'Chubby' Wall and Simon Price. Can you tell which one wins from the following description?
Miles is a respect lawyer and stands for election.
Colin 'Chubby' Wall is the deputy head of the local high school, Tessa Wall is his wife and Stuart 'Fats' is his son. Deeply unsettled by the death of his close friend Barry he tries to honour him by 'doing what he'd think Barry would want' and stand for election.
Simon Price is abusive in all senses of the word to his long suffering wife and children. He's big headed enough to think he can win the election, living off brides and expenses.
There are many other characters but the one worth of note is Krystal Weedon. Krystal would probably be described as a 'chav'. She is a victim of her circumstance more than anything else; poverty, a heroin addict sometimes prostitute for a mother and being the main carer for her brother, toddler Robbie. I really liked Krystal and though her story is predictable it still feels tragic and there are a few moving moments in between.
Setting - I cannot make my mind up with this aspect of the book. On the one hand it is the typical 'idyllic' British town; the general setting painted for tourists. The traditional, slightly backward community that is predominantly white middle class and is racist, fascist and altogether snobbish, ignorant and rude. Though at first is seems very out-dated this is where the other side of the argument comes in. Communities like this still do exist, no matter how much people pretend they don't. To be honest, it's hard to think how Rowling could have set the storyline in another environment as the typical traits of the a town such as Pagford are the foundations of the plot.
Narration - The book is not told from one particular view point or person. We jump from character to character in quite a random manner that adds to the readers inability to connect with the book.
Language Used & Dialogue - As stated, JK Rowling can write. Her use of language is impressive and she can perfectly balance dialogue with description. But it's not enough to save this novel.
Themes & Ideas - I do have to congratulate Rowling for stepping aside from Harry Potter. Whatever the author writes in the future will always be compared to and will never top the series. That said, I applaud her for trying something different when she knows she would be ripped to shreds by critics. It takes someone very confident and brave to take themselves out of their comfort zone.
The Verdict: It may shock people to discover than JK Rowling is no longer synonymous with a good read. The book is as dull as the town is depicts. The story never really kicks off and will loose readers because of it. All in all, disappointing from such a talented author. Don't waste your money this Christmas! 1* Star.