Created on: January 09, 2013
In early 2012, JK Rowling made headlines around the world by announcing that she had written a book for adults. Coming five years after the publication of her last major novel, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows", excitement spread rapidly. For months, all the world knew was that the novel would be published by "Little Brown", which wasn't much of a clue to the book's contents, but people generally seemed to feel there would be a bit of fantasy in it.
And then "A Casual Vacancy" arrived. Everyone acted as though it was another "Harry Potter" book, with midnight openings, embargoes on reviews, and a quite spectacularly mad hate campaign on Amazon when fans decided the ebook edition of the novel was too expensive. And then people actually opened it and discovered a rather quaint tale of middle class parish council politics in England's West Country.
"A Casual Vacancy" is, really, a competent but very unremarkable book, propelled into the stratosphere by its writer's pedigree with the "Harry Potter" novels. Set in contemporary England, Rowling introduces the reader to a huge cast of deeply grotesque characters, and then proceeds to show us how they're all utterly miserable.
From barely conscious junkies to obese delicatessen owners, this diverse cast mingles over several hundred pages, their stories overlapping as Rowling seeks to highlight how small their world is. The plot, such as it is, centres on parish council wrangling to redraw certain boundaries to assign a deprived residential estate from Pagford Village, and back to nearby Yarvil.
Domestic violence, rape, drug abuse, adultery, Pagford is a surprisingly lively place, each apparently respectable house hiding a dark secret. Drunk Samantha Mollison lusts after the boys in her daughter's favourite band, while Simon Price beats his family if they mention his stolen computer. Barry Fairbrother, the councillor whose death kicks off the whole book, is probably the only genuinely pleasant character in the novel.
So, "A Casual Vacancy" bumbles along in its hilariously earnest mission to show readers that sometimes middle class white people can be a bit hypocritical, and then it all goes a bit mental about 40 pages from the end, like the last level in a Grand Theft Auto game. It all feels like a bit of a waste. In its favour, there's the masterful character of Fats Wall, adopted son of a neurotic deputy headteacher, who has hardened himself against the world in order to become 'authentic', like a kind of teenage
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