Being in the proses of having my first book published I find myself astonished of J.K. Rowling’s accomplishments. As we all know, she’s a billionaire author, having sold more than 450 million copies worldwide of her “Harry Potter” series. Yet it’s hard to envy the harsh scrutiny faced by J.K. Rowling in publishing “The Casual Vacancy,” her first novel for adults. Everyone’s expectations are exceedingly high, mine was too.
Having read the book over a couple of nights, I can only state that once again, our favourite author has succeeded to create a page-turner, this time for adults. As the gifted story-teller now changes her main audience, she keeps to her well known recipes and gets the story to move along her plot at a brisk, efficient pace.
The Casual Vacancy might be called an epic soap opera: It’s stuffed with revenge, sex, duplicity, violence, malignant gossip, drug addiction, self-mutilation, snobbery, cruelty, poverty and death.
As Rowling’s narrative shifts among various families and characters, she exposes the misery that exists behind their finely painted front doors.
In Pagford, a lovely fictional English village where “the most expensive houses stood in all their Victorian extravagance and solidity,” a married, middle-aged father of four, Barry Fairbrother, drops dead of an aneurysm in a golf club parking lot. His death sets off a frenzy of scheming and leads to some rather disturbing events as well.
As a member of the Pagford Parish Council, Barry was an earnest do-gooder instrumental in bringing to town a drug rehab clinic and a low-income housing development called the Fields. Both measures were highly controversial, pitting rich against poor and raising concerns about crime and entitlement. Now that Barry’s death leaves a “casual vacancy” – an open seat on the council – there is an opportunity to undo his work. To the conniving types (and there are many) who hope to replace him, the vacancy is seen “not as an empty space but as a magician’s pocket, full of possibilities.”
Some neighbors feign pity for Barry’s widow, Mary, while in private they celebrate Barry’s sudden demise and begin plotting their political agendas. Meanwhile, as many of the adults in Pagford engage in increasingly repellent behaviour, the adolescents are mired in dramas of their own.
Andrew Price despises his brute tyrant of a father, Simon, while lusting after a new classmate named Gaia. Sukhvinder Jawanda, an overweight Pakistani girl, endures alienation, bullying and much worse. Stuart Wall, an unrepentant troublemaker, pursues Krystal Weedon, the damaged, foul-mouthed daughter of Terri, a heroin addict and prostitute.
The notorious Weedons live in the Fields, and their squalid existence stirs anger, condescension and disgust among their genteel neighbors. Although Krystal, her 3-year-old brother, Robbie, and their mother are terribly marginalized, fate will cause them to affect the community in ways that prove profound and tragic.
“The Casual Vacancy” might be described as a black comedy or a comic tragedy, either way, it’s a grim story. However, J.K.Rowlings has done it again; she’s capable of creating a believable community with characters and plots that engage me as a reader.