When BN put up the poster of J. K. Rowling in their front window proclaiming the future release (her first book since the Harry Potter saga), you can imagine how excited I was (my mom actually attributes the Harry Potter series to my voracious reading, which did not always exist). After wrapping up loose ends with other novels, I decided it was time to partake in Rowling’s “adult” novel although I had yet to read a synopsis. The Casual Vacancy is a brash story of a divided struggle for the newly emptied seat on a small town’s council.
After the death of Barry Fairbrother, a pivotal member in Pagford and active town councillor, the small town turns to chaos at the future standing of their most heated debate: the Fields. The Fields are home to riffraff and low-life junkies and lies just within the boundaries of Pagford’s jurisdiction. One half of the council is ready to wash their hands of the filth, the likes of the Mollisons, a father-son team determined to keep Pagford as idyllic as ever. The other half, led by deceased Fairbrother, believes in preserving the Fields and continuing to work toward a drug-free neighborhood. Barry Fairbrother’s death, however, ignites other citizens to enter the battle, including reclusive Simon Price, wishy-washy Colin Wall, and Dr. Parminder Jawanda. With these individuals’ interests peaked, their families are sucked into the fray of the town dispute.
Not only are there apparent divisions within the council, but each family houses their own divides. Cheating husbands, lush wives, abusive fathers, condescending mothers, dishonest sons, daughters with low self-esteem…everyone has a facade they don for their community and a very secret self that would ruin them if information ever surfaced. But no matter what each citizen is hiding, they think they are much better than the inhabitants of the Fields.
While the town of Pagford struggles to control the majority in the council, the likes of the Wheedons, the most notorious of the Fielders, carry on with the terrible and shocking truths of their drug-obsessed lives. Terri prostitutes herself for herion and can barely take care of herself, let alone her teenage daughter Krystal and three-year old Robbie. Krystal truants from school to shack up with boys, and Robbie is frightened of any man who comes around their home. While social workers try to aid the family, the very addiction clinic that gives their future promise is in jeopardy of closing.
It’s on the website for the Pagford council that things get interesting. Amidst the drama of the town, the “ghost” of Barry Fairbrother provides his two cents on the candidates running to fill his empty seat. With secrets exposed and the threat of collapse awaiting council members, bonds amongst the people of Pagford are tested. Will anyone triumph once the ballots are counted? Or, as some citizens suspect, will more havoc follow the newly elected councillor.
Overall, this was a tedious and depressing story. Although I enjoy the way Rowling writes, I had a very difficult time keeping track of all the characters (from lack of interest). The dialect of the Fielders created many stumbling points for me, as I got caught up in reading exactly what was written. I could not identify with any of the characters, and simply could not wait to finish the book. As much as I wanted to love The Casual Vacancy, I found it frustrating at best. I also did not like the references to modern technology such as Facebook and iPods (just my personal preference). Although, Rowling succeeded in authoring a complex adult story, she failed to capture my interest. Unless you have a deep passion for reading about small town councils and catty politics, I would not recommend The Casual Vacancy.
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