|Title: The Casual Vacancy|
|Author: J.K. Rowling|
|Genre: Adult Contemporary|
|Publisher: Little, Brown|
|Series: Stand alone|
News that Rowling was going to follow the Harry Potter series with an adult fiction was met with skepticism by critics and fans alike. I was one of many who was uncertain of the direction she planned to go, but certain in her ability to weave suspense and humour within a compelling story.
Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, but what lies behind the pretty façade is a town at war.
Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils ... Pagford is not what it first seems.
And the empty seat left by Barry on the parish council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen. Who will triumph in an election fraught with passion, duplicity and unexpected revelations?
Let's start with the obvious: THE CASUAL VACANCY is a book that was not, and is not, meant to reach Harry Potter heights. It feels more a calculated measure, a breather of sorts as Rowling plans to follow TCV with a children's series. I'm of the mind that it is a slow-burning page-turner and stands perfectly well on its own merits. Nevertheless, its success (or lack of) means that the book has been widely panned by critics as a failed venture.
Genius marketing plan to create more of a distinction between both series, or a failure in capitalizing on HP's success? What's your take?
Set in the little town of Pagford, this tragicomedy revolves around the mundane everyday lives of the Pagford villagers. Their little world gets shaken up with the death of a beloved town council member, and from there chaos ensues as allegiances shift and relationships stumble in the town's effort to appoint a new member.
Issues of nepotism and a small town mindset are tackled, with the ruling family's foundation being further shaken with the unconventional self-appointed nominees. It's a tangled web of relationships within Pagford, one that's less web and more putu mayam, as the smallest action or gossip propels the town into frenzy.
At the start, the various characters may be hard to keep track of, as we navigate the lives of grandparents, parents and children. Once the threads start lining up in place and weave together, it makes for a compelling page turner, one that details the inner turmoil and mundane, petty concerns of every Pagfordian. Their interactions were always interesting and believable, with dialogue and actions amongst the teenagers that may concern parents, but is true to life. The pacing was constant, which at times makes for a boring read, though the little spikes in tension kept me reading on. Having read it till the last page, though the ending didn't leave me breathless or pining with parting sorrow, I finished feeling oddly satisfied.
One thing that might surprise readers and long-time Harry Potter fans is the fact that none of the characters are clear cut protagonists or antagonists. I've heard and read criticisms of the Harry Potter books whereby their concern is that the characters are obviously ~good~ or ~bad~ according to their portrayals--through descriptions and mannerisms. That's not the case here. The characters' humanity come through, and you find yourself rooting for yet not quite rooting for (most of) the characters at one point or another. The ambiguity in their characterization makes this book a winner for me.
Side note: There are plans for a television adaptation of the book. I'm already imagining a contemporary version of Downton Abbey.