Books Read in 2015 21. The Casual Vacancy – J. K. Rowling

Genre: Social criticism, tragicomedy

Narrative Style: Third person from a variety of points of viewUnknown

Rating: 3/5

Published: 2012

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: When Barry Fairbrother dies suddenly, he leaves his place on the council unfilled. What follows is the scramble for his position between the other families in Pagford. It becomes a battle about social responsibility and exposes all the secrets that community members have been battling to hide.

After watching the TV programme, I had pretty much decided that I wasn’t going to read this. I didn’t really enjoy the adaptation but my mother in law said the book was so much better so when it came on offer for kindle, I decided to give it a go. Well, she was right, it was better than the BBC adaptation but I still didn’t enjoy it as much as I might have hoped.

There is an enjoyable amount of puncturing small town hypocrisy in this novel. That is the best thing about it without a doubt. The portrayal of Howard and Shirley Mollison is  the most successful in this respect. They are both grotesque examples of a small town England mentality and although their downfall takes a long time, it is worth the wait and was satisfying. It was a shame that other storylines and characters were not so well drawn.

One of the problems for me was Rowling’s almost neurotic need to prove that she is a grown up writer now. She throws everything possible at this novel. There’s drug addicts, child abuse, teenage sex, self harm, extreme poverty and anything else Rowling considers might be a bit shocking. When it transpired that Howard and Shirley’s daughter, Pat, is a lesbian and that is why she doesn’t get on with her parents, it left me feeling a little hollow. it felt like one cliche too far.

And that was the other problem. There are a lot of characters in this novel and they all have their morally troubling secrets and problems but because of sheer numbers some of them go underdeveloped and as a result are unconvincing. Others are stereotypical – like Stu Wall and his teenage rebellion or Terri Weedon whose drug addiction is a result of her own abuse as a child. They feel like stock characters rather than real people.

Still, it is paced well and the various plots come together in a suitably shocking ending. There is no doubt that Rowling can plot well. This is true of her Potter books as well and it goes some way to hide the other problems with her writing. The ending was much better than tthat of the TV version and I can’t help wonder why they changed it. It was hard hitting and exposed the lack of care at the heart of the community, any number of which could have stopped the tragedy happening.



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