By Laura Dildine
Former Editor in Chief
If readers were looking to recapture the magic of reading Harry Potter, they were sorely dissappointed with J.K. Rowling’s lastest novel for adults, The Casual Vacancy. Lyrically written with a style recogonizabbly Rowling, the tone and plotline were drastically different than Harry Potter.
Publishers and Rowling had warned that this story was meant for a very different audience, and those who did not heed the warning would be severely disappointed in the book.
Written in first person from the prospective of several different characters who live in the English town of Pagford, the beginning takes the reader inside the mind of Barry Fairbrother, who dies by the end of the first chapter. Orginally named Barry Fairweather until a month before publication, Rowling has stated in interviews that she considers Barry Fairbrother the hero in the story, and it is easy to see how no one else in the story is expressively heroic.
Upon his death, a spot opens up on the Pagford city council and the fight and campaigning that ensues for the successor of that seat is deadly. Everyone in this town is fighting for something, and it doesn’t always help their fellow man.
The story paints a very grim picture of human nature and life. Every moment the reader is drawn into a world of power plays, deterioating relationships, drug abuse and children growing up in bad homes all in the tiny town of Pagford. The reader can spend the whole book searching for a character to love or feel drawn to, but none of the characters really draw in the reader or tug on their heartstrings.
The whole book spends itself detailing the horrible and hidden internal dialogues of every character, making them hard to love. There are no Weasleys in this book.
Another thing is the extreme amount of characters included in this book. Most of them have a chapter in which the reader gains their perspective on life. Keeping track of all the characters and constantly switching from one character’s perspective to another makes it increasingly difficult to follow the story and get invested in the characters.
Looking at the story, very few stories of this serious nature portray such a grim outlook on life. Rowling said the books had humor in it. For readers, unless the reader’s humor is incredibly dark, this book is anything but funny.
Now, for anyone who has read a book like Madame Bovary, readers can recogonize the literary merit of a novel but it still may not be their cup of tea to read. The Casualy Vacancy seems to be along those lines. Despite it depressingly being nothing like Harry Potter, when looked at on its own, it certainly has some literary merit.
Killing off the hero of the book in the first chapter is veering from the standard path in a very extreme way. How can you have a story without a hero? It seems absurd and useless, and yet, it works for the story that Rowling tells.
The depressing picture this story paints takes a magnifying glass at the horrors of modern life. It challenges readers to look at the world, to question the actions and choices of all of the characters. Not only that, it shows how choices have an impact on the people directly around a character, and sometimes on people that are only near geographically and not emotionally.
The language of The Casual Vacancy is still lyrical and whimsical; the vocabulary is expansive. All of it showcases Rowling’s talent to draw readers in with the beauty of language. Curse words aren’t off limit, but they show the reader that this book does not filter reality.
In fact, much of this book is about not filtering reality, showing the lowest parts of society and human nature–parts of life Rowling knows first hand from her life, having been on welfare for several years as a young mother.
This book is not magical, it is not meant as entertainment and it captures nothing of the world of Harry Potter. This book stands on its own, questioning the world in which everyone lives in. It takes the reader on a journey through the horrors of life and begs to ask the question of what effect the choices we make have on the life we live and the lives of everyone around us. It shows how all the different characters of Pagford live, the choices they make and there effect.
So, the book asks, is it worth it?
That is up to the reader. It is up to the reader to realize this is nothing like Harry Potter, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth a look, an examination and a chance to look at the reader’s own life. After all, it’s all about the choices and the consequences that result.
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