‘The Casual Vacancy’ is vacant in heart

| October 3, 2012 | 0 Comments

J.K. Rowling, author of “The Casual Vacancy.” MCT Campus

For many college students, the Harry Potter series will hold an untouchable place in their hearts. The series, which was first published in the late ‘90s, was groundbreaking in children’s literature and became a worldwide success.

The children who grew up reading about Harry and his friends are now adults and just as they have changed, so has J.K. Rowling. Her first novel for adults, “The Casual Vacancy” was released Sept. 27 and bears little resemblance to her famous series.

Those looking for similarities in “The Casual Vacancy” may only come up with the setting of England; other than being in the same country, this book is pure Muggle paltriness.

Taking place in the Village of Pagford, the story opens with the death of Barry Fairbrother from a sudden aneurysm. As a councilman, Barry’s death has a huge impact on the lives of his town as a war develops on who will obtain the now empty seat of the parish council.

One of the most difficult aspects of the book is its confusingly large cast of characters and its sluggish start. Rowling should have included a chart showing who knows who and who hates who. The characters in the town are united more so in their petty animosity of each other and love of gossip than anything else.

One of the early plot points revolved around several characters giddiness at being the first to deliver the news of Barry’s death. Much of the tension is between the class struggle in the community and the debate over the citizens’ responsibility for The Fields, the housing project in the bad side of town.

Throughout the novel is the constant question of responsibility.

There is a large range of issues present like rape, drug use, child abuse and suicide. But the overall question that unites these problems in the novel is who is ultimately responsible for them. Is the girl from The Fields known to be sexually loose to be pitied for her poor upbringing, or does she have no one but herself to blame for her behavior?

Similarly, is it the town’s responsibility to bring order to The Fields to prevent more hopeless cases like hers? Or is the outcome of an individual no one’s doing but their own?

At its best, “The Casual Vacancy” is as darkly humorous and thought provoking as it brings to light issues that are present in every society. At its worst, it comes off more as a veiled platform to socialism than a novel.

Image courtesy of AbeBooks.

This is never more apparent than when the more conservative characters are portrayed, to comic effect, of being so fond of looking down their noses at others that they seem like they could be friends of the Dursleys from “Harry Potter.” However, this also makes it seem more of a caricature of a town rather than being so well fleshed out that it could be mistaken for a real place with real people.

While the reader may pity characters, none of them are very likable as they are overly simplified, perhaps in an effort to make them even more symbolic. While the Dursleys one-dimensional characters were fitting in that universe, it seems out of place in the very adult world of “The Casual Vacancy.”

Perhaps in an effort to distance herself from her children’s stories, Rowling has scattered an abundance of profanities and graphic descriptions of sex and pornography throughout the book. While the references were perhaps meant to be alarming and edgy, they come off more as forced and a little clinical.

In reading “The Casual Vacancy” it is clear that Rowling has not lost her skill at crafting compelling prose. However, as commercially successful as the novel is, it is not a story that will stay with readers for the right reasons.

While it presents many issues and sympathetic characters, most problems aren’t ever resolved and characters are not fully developed. The result is an overwhelming sense of unresolved tragedy, which can make readers feel left out in the cold.

Category:Arts and Entertainment

Liz Lanier Liz Lanier is the former Arts & Entertainment editor of the Niner Times. You can find more of her writing in Game Informer Magazine, the Virginian-Pilot and The Charlotte Observer.


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Liz Lanier Liz Lanier is the former Arts & Entertainment editor of the Niner Times. You can find more of her writing in Game Informer Magazine, the Virginian-Pilot and The Charlotte Observer.