I belong to the generation who grew up on Harry Potter, owned all the books in the series and read every one of them at least twice. And yes, I was one of those who felt sad when the last book was published in 2007. (Leave in the comments box below if you also grew up with Harry Potter!)
Upon hearing that J.K. Rowling was going to release a new adult fiction, the kidult in me knew I had to dig my fingers into it. But “The Casual Vacancy,” as I realized, is no Potter fantasy. It is a book about real life, where every page and every character uncover dirty things about our world and the ugly side of humanity.
Set in the small English town of Pagford, the sudden death of popular parish council member Barry Fairbrother sparked off a war during the subsequent election campaign to replace his vacant position. Families pitted against one other, wives plotted against their husbands and a whole range of backstabbing incidents gave the novel a cringe-worthy factor.
“They had made their lives, Fats thought scornfully. The victims of the Ghost of Barry Fairbrother were mired in hypocrisy and lies, and they didn’t like the exposure. They were stupid bugs running form bright light. They knew nothing about real life.”
The overall mood of the book is black and dark, which seems to have extended from the death theme that permeated the last “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” novel.
I was particularly disturbed that the story constantly picks into the brains of the characters to articulate their uncensored thoughts, of which, many are rather unsettling. For instance, one of the characters Samantha Mollison, who is a wife and a mother of a teenage girl, would always be fantasizing about members from her daughter’s favorite boy band.
“Samantha imagined herself nineteen to Jake’s twenty-one, slender-waisted again, taut curves in the right places, and a strong flat stomach of her own, fitting comfortably into her white, size ten shorts. She vividly recalled how it felt to sit on a young man’s lap in those shorts, with the heat and roughness of sun-warmed denim under her bare thighs, and big hands around her lithe waist. She imagined Jake’s breath on her neck; she imagined turning to look into the blue eyes, close to the high cheekbones and that firm, carved mouth…”
For me, that was too much information shared even though they are true reflections of Samantha’s frustrations with her marriage, career and life direction. As one of the typical characters in the book, who is a less than perfect, disgruntled ordinary person, she is ironically too real for the fictional literary world.
This might be a book about small town politics but is also a microcosm of the ecosystems we are living in – a friend struggling with addiction, a lover who never loved us or strained ties with our loved ones.
There are no happy stories in the book, only happy or unhappy problems for the characters to deal with.