Monday, October 1, 2012

Book Review: The Casual Vacancy - Middlemarch for the 21st Century

When I had heard that J.K. Rowling would have a new book out for adults, I actually drooled. The Creator of Harry Potter would be giving us a new book and world to play around in, only that there would be no magick involved. Once copies of The Casual Vacancy arrived at the library, I grabbed a copy and began my journey to the small British town of Pagford. What a ride! Barry Fairbrother has died, leaving quite a hole, a la It's a Wonderful Life, in Pagford. Yet more importantly, his death creates a casual vacancy (a deliberate vacancy of a position due to death or other situations) in the Parish Council. Now the fun begins: all is not what it appears to be in Pagford; lies are told, truths are revealed, knives are stabbed in many a back and secrets unfold through websites, whispers and outbursts. Everyone in the town is connected to one another in some form or fashion and when one link disintegrates (Fairbrother's death), then nothing is sacred or the same ever again. J.K. Rowling has done it again with The Casual Vacancy; she tells a story like no one else and will keep you guessing and turning pages until the very end. As I read the hefty novel, I found myself comparing it to another British novel that revolved around a fictional town and its inhabitants: Middlemarch by George Eliot. As Middlemarch is the background for British way of way during the 1800s, so is The Casual Vacancy for the 21st century. Instead of Dr. Lydgate handling the fever epidemic, we have social worker Kay handling the rising population of heroin users in "the Fields". As we watch Fred Vincy express his love for sensible Mary Garth in Middlemarch, we watch Andrew Price, or Pizza Face as called by his mean tempered and abusive father Simon, come to grips with his "crush" for Gaia, daughter of Kay in The Casual Vacancy. So many other similarities and yet each novel holds their own weight and merit within the realms of literature. So many characters and yet only J.K. Rowling could handle them with not only her usual flourish of writing but also with a wide range of emotions that make you WANT to give a damn about them. If you liked/loved Harry Potter, you will simply adore The Casual Vacancy.

1 comment:

Meerabai said...

The Casual Vacancy was a very far cry from Harry Potter. The writer has used an incident, namely a death, to bring out the social and political dynamics in a small fictitious English village. There is a scenario that would typify almost any rural community that is wholly weighed down with matters of local importance. The outside world does not matter to the inmates.

The story is meandering and moves at a relaxed pace and it is not devoid of drama.
The novel brings out the passions, the hatred, rivalries and resentment that fester in minds of the adults and children. Perhaps this pattern of interaction is applicable to all of humanity if only the scale were to differ. Every character is ensconced in his or her own little world and interacts and thinks accordingly. Maybe all humans are self centred to a large extent be they in a village or a metropolis.

The feel of the book was nice and gossippy and one can easily lose oneself in it. However it did have its sad, even tragic moments.

All-in-all the book is quite brilliant from one of the most evocative authors of modern times.