The Casual Vacancy: A tale of life, and tragedy

This is not a review of J.K. Rowling’s new novel, The Casual Vacancy. There are plenty of professional, well-written analyses of this much anticipated book out there (look here and here).

This is simply a post about my thoughts on the book upon completing it yesterday evening.

It’s very difficult for a writer who has become synonymous with her work, to carve a new niche for herself. There’s, for one, a lot of expectation about what the new work will be about. It will undoubtedly be judged against her previous works. For Rowling, I felt that she handled this book with brilliant deft of hand, switching gracefully to the realm of adult fiction.

The Casual Vacancy is a far cry from the Harry Potter series. Whilst Potter had its moments of seriousness and plenty brooding darkness, this latest novel ups the notch on the gritty factor.

Vacancy is a book about death, life, tragedy and triumph. It’s about all that occurs in a small British town – gossip, revelations, feuds and friendships tested. The cover jacket captures the book’s essence quite aptly: “A big novel about a small town…”

More than anything, it makes some stark statements about life. This was especially apparent in the final pages of the novel, at its climax and resulting dénouement. It makes one pause for a moment, and consider that life is happening around us, and we should take it in as much as possible.

Interestingly, there is no main character in this book, as there was so clearly in Harry Potter. Sure, we can argue that Barry Fairbrother is a central character, yet we only glimpse him in the first few pages; thereafter, he prevails as an essence that binds the multitude of characters together.

There’s a lot of characters in this book. I mean, a lot. It often gets difficult to keep track of relationships, but I found that as I got further into the book, and became once again ensnared by Rowling’s storytelling charm, everything just seemed to flow. Yes, it is difficult to begin this book, but trust me, about a third of the way in, it becomes very difficult to put it down.

I think this book is important on a number of levels. It serves, as I’ve mentioned before, as a comment on today’s society. It comments about the suddenness of life, and of death. It comments on the fickleness of people. It comments on greed and power, on traditions and culture, and the clash of ideologies. It follows multiple characters, allowing us to get into their heads and try and grasp the contrasting views bottled-up in the picturesque town of Pagford, a world imagined a million times differently to the warmness of Hogwarts.

I try to refrain from making this thought-piece out like a review, but it really is just my take on this book. The ending will stick with me for a long time; Rowling allows us to amble comfortably through the book, and incrementally increases the pace into a devastating climax.

The mistake many readers might make is to expect this novel to be on the lines of the Harry Potter series. And it couldn’t be any more different. There’s strong (and I mean disgustingly strong) language. The book is edgy, gritty, and very brutal in portraying these diverse characters. Yet it still contains Rowling’s soul in its execution; it’s honest and captivating. If you’re a Potter fan, and don’t wish to have your view of Rowling tainted by this novel, perhaps, then I suggest you steer well-clear from it. But if you like to read with an open mind, and enjoy getting lost in a book, then this is certainly a novel for you.

In short, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

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