…by J. K. Rowling.
Welcome to the town of Pagford. An idyllic and beautiful place where everyone knows everyone. But while on the surface Pagford is an epitome of goodness, upon closer examination, this is certainly not the case. Barry Fairbrother, a local councillor, dies of a stroke in his 40s. As a result, his council seat is left vacant and must be filled. His death also influences the little community in different ways.
For starters, there is his family that he leaves behind: his wife Mary, and children Fergus, Niamh, Siobhan and Declan. Two of his closest friends are also distraught at his death: Colin ‘Cubby’ Wall and Gavin Hughes. They each deal with it differently; Colin whose anxiety disorder increases in severity and Gavin, trying to avoid it all. Colin receives support from his wife Tessa Wall who is also Mary’s best friend but none from his adopted son Stuart ‘Fats’ Wall. Gavin on the other hand, is stuck in a relationship (with Kay Bawden, a social worker who moved to Pagford from London with her daughter Gaia to be with Gavin) he does not want to be in and uses the Fairbrothers as a way to escape. Then there’s Dr Parminder Jawanda, another councillor and the local GP who got along well with Barry and has difficulty coming to terms with her death. While attempting to help everyone else, she is oblivious to the pains of her youngest daughter Sukhvinder.
Barry’s death has the opposite effect on Howard Mollinson, who is also on the local council and akin to a mayoral status. He and his wife Shirley could not be more pleased given that Barry was fighting a cause against what Howard wanted. Howard’s son Miles is hoping to stand for Barry’s vacant seat along with Colin and another Pagford resident, Simon Price. Miles is nothing short of a mama’s boy while Simon is a domestic violence perpetrator towards his wife Ruth and children Andrew and Paul, as well as a small-time thug.
Finally, despite most people not realising it, Barry’s death has also affected one other person deeply: Krystal Weedon. A 16 year old in the same school and year as Barry’s twin daughters, Sukhvinder, Fats, Andrew and Gaia. Unlike the others, Krystal doesn’t live in Pagford. She lives in a housing estate in The Fields which despite being in the neighbouring falls in the Pagford local district. She lives with her junkie mother Terri who falls off the wagon of her methadone program at Bellchapel clinic several times and her younger brother Robbie.
The Casual Vacancy follows the journey of all of the above individuals and those related to them. It follows the repercussions after Barry’s death and all that he was fighting for. The main thing being continuing to include The Fields as part of the local district and continue to have Bellchapel running. Something which Howard Mollinson and his cronies did not want.
Now, after giving you that massive summary, let me talk about my views about the book.
I LOVED IT!
I loved the manner in which the characters were all set out, each which their quirks and most with shades of grey. Some were possibly more despicable (Howard Mollinson and Simon Price, for instance), some positive all over (Tessa Wall and Kay Bawden for instance) while others were complex and intriguing (Krystal, Sukhvinder, Colin, Fats, Andrew, Gaia to name a few). More than the plot, the focus is on the characters. How each of them think. How each of them feel. How each of them behave. And most importantly, how each of them tries to survive whatever is thrown at them. As I read the book, I felt a range of emotions: happiness, sadness, despair, disgust, helplessness, anger and frustration to name a few. I laughed. I smirked. I shook my head. I cried.
Rowling has done a fantastic job in her first book for adults. I was worried I’d be comparing it to Harry Potter. But you know what? A few pages into the book and Potter and his world were kicked out of my head. Despite Pagford being a make-believe place, it could easily pass off for society today. I loved the teenagers with their complexities. I think Rowling has got into their psyches perfectly. I see clients like Sukhvinder and Krystal and Fats. And I think that made the book hit closer to home for me. The pain they go through in different ways, the struggles with their identity and of course, the difficult upbringings and attachments all lead them to cope in a variety of ways. Krystal uses casual sex, Sukhvinder uses deliberate self-harm, and Fats with his desire to be ‘authentic’ in order to rebel. Rowling has described Colin’s anxiety disorder perfectly and once again, it is so realistic and gives you a great insight into what mental health is like for some people. Howard’s attitude is pretty much what you would see with people in society these days too. They don’t understand drug and alcohol abuse. They don’t understand the need for clinics that dose out methadone to drug addicts. All they see is people falling off the wagon. They don’t see that success in mental health and drug health is defined differently.
I know Rowling has copped a lot of flak for this book. I still don’t know why. Some people were offended by the sex and the swearing. It didn’t bother me one bit because that’s what society is like. Teenagers do have sex. Adults do have sex. As for swearing, well, to me it’s just like another word, possibly because I do it too.
I could go on and on about how great this book is. J. K. Rowling has in fact gone up even higher in estimation for me (she already was way up there) with the manner in which she has covered serious social issues and mental health issues in this book. They are all very realistic and beautifully portrayed. Her writing style as always is impeccable. You get the accents and the mannerisms and all the nuances in between. If there was one gripe for me, it’s the cover. Not a fan of the cover. 🙂 There were 500 pages in this book. 500 pages of a wonderful journey into people’s minds.
Thank you again for this masterpiece J. K. Rowling!
I rate it a 5.
Until next time,
Note: This post was originally posted on my personal blog.