Monday, March 24, 2014

The Casual Vacancy

The Casual Vacancy  by J.K. Rowling

I wasn't sure how that linquistics program outed J.K. Rowling for The Cuckoo's Calling, the murder mystery she wrote using the pen name Robert Galbraith.  That book was nothing like the Harry Potter series. Her talent as an author showed through, but otherwise, everything about it was different, and I knew she was the author before I picked it up. There was nothing that rang as being similar between the books, that I could see or feel.  

Then, I read The Casual Vacancy and it is just as fresh and different.  Pagford  is a small town, filled with residents who make big drama.   We come into the story as Barry Fairbrother, member of the town council and lifelong resident of the area dies of a brain aneurysm while out to dinner with his wife.  He was an unassuming kind of a guy, but he made such a huge impact on everyone.  There was no one who wasn't affected by his death. He was passionate about the town and his causes and in his life he earned the love and hate of his neighbors. 

The biggest issue dividing Pagford is the housing project on its fringes called The Fields.  If The Fields are considered part of Pagford then its citizens must be educated in the Pagford schools and cared for by the community. If The Fields are cut off in the zoning then they become someone else's problem. Then, there's the methadone clinic which is renting space in an old church in Pagford. The town owns it and can opt out of the lease, which the same people who are in favor of distancing themselves, officially, from The Fields, are calling for.   When Barry died the entire town was in a big debate and gearing up for a vote to decide both volatile matters. His opponents consider this a time to strike while the other side is headless and Barry's friends and peers are trying to figure how to scramble so they don't lose any of the ground that Barry had won for the cause.

Rowling doesn't give us the idyllic small town with its nuclear families and white picket fences. She gives us all the drama and passion of the city, but made it all the more potent by cramming it all into the confines of a tiny little town, filled with families who've been there for generations.  Everyone knows everything about everyone else.  The skeletons are out of the closets and a metaphorical zombie apocalypse is taking place in boardrooms and bedrooms and at the country club.

I loved this book. All those people who are way too familiar with each other, and their bored and rebellious children use every weapon in their arsenals. Some hit their mark and many many backfire. I certainly hope that this is more caricature of small town life, than just a slight dramatization, but I'm not so sure people who live in communities like this could tell where the line is.  


The HoneyNerds said...

I thought this book was really well written with some fantastic characterizations (even though I couldn't sympathize with many of the characters) but I didn't love the story as much as I wanted to. It kind of put me off of trying Cuckoo's Calling. But I'm glad you enjoyed this one - I think JK Rowling is a fantastic writer!

JoanneMarie Faust said...

No, none of the characters here was at all sympathetic. There was no one I could relate to, there was no one I didn't wish I could slap or shake at some point. I accepted Rowling's Pagford as being shown, "warts and all," and very warty, at that.

As for Cuckoo's Calling, Cormoran Strike and Robin are both sympathetic characters. I couldn't help but like them both, very much. The mystery was good, the writing was excellent. It's a very different book from The Casual Vacancy.

Judy Krueger said...

Great review. I agree that Casual is quite different from Cuckoo and both are great entertaining reading.