Heartbreaking. Devastating. Reality in a nutshell.
This is J K Rowling you don’t know. Our favourite fantasy author has taken a new twist in this novel with her revelation of the ugly truths of life where social mobility is as difficult as knowing how many stars there are in the night’s sky, in this tragedy.
The novel is about an idyllic gossiping town in which some greet the death of Barry Fairbrother, a Parish Councillor, with great welcome, whereas others find it difficult to move past his demise. The story involves the election process to fill the casual vacancy left by Barry Fairbrother upon his death. It traces the ups, downs and all arounds of everyday living within familial, work and school relationships. Issues like discrimination, depression, addiction, abuse, rape, drugs, sex, violence, love, lust, emptiness, regret and so much more are touched on by Rowling through the deep development and characterisation of all her characters.
A central character in the novel is Krystal Weedon, a young girl of sixteen who lives in the poorest area in the novel. She is intermittently violent, rude, crass and opinionated. Krystal seemingly has no redeeming qualities when we first meet her in the novel, but as the novel progresses, we see the deep love she has for her little brother of three years, Robbie Weedon and the extents she is willing to go to protect him from their heroin-addicted mother. Barry Fairbrother, who coached the girls’ rowing team, seems the only supporter of Krystal in all of Pagford. Upon his death, Krystal knows that Nana Cath, her great grandmother believes in her, but for how long?
It seems to me that the entire novel is balanced on Krystal Weedon. She represents the typically inevitable situation where children become the product of their circumstances and their outcry for society to accept them – to give them a chance – is snuffed out. Through Krystal Weedon, J K Rowling explores the attitudes towards persons similarly circumstanced and to me, demonstrates that society as a whole needs to do more to ensure that social mobility becomes more accessible.
The Casual Vacancy is not just a novel to me, but an eye-opener to the much larger issues our societies face daily. This tragedy truly has the depth of thought of a person who is appalled by the attitudes of some and their reluctance to help those in need, even when they have the means and power to do so.
Admittedly, it took me a while to fully delve into the world J K Rowling created in The Casual Vacancy. The first time I tried to read it, I was less than 100 pages in when I lost patience with it and set it aside. However I was determined to finish it and upon my second try, I dragged through the first hundred pages with pure determination to get to the end. It came as a surprise to me that I got so wrapped up in the inner workings of the lives of these characters and I couldn’t wait to see what happened at the end. Finishing the novel was an extremely satisfying experience and I now understand that the first hundred pages might have been necessary in order to prepare us for what was in store. I still however, took off one star from my rating due to the late start of capturing my full attention.
However, I must comment that even while the plot may have been slow in the first hundred pages, Rowling’s writing style was as eloquent as ever and I was amazed as usual with her writing style; the way things and people are described or the way everything flows into each other so effortlessly is mind blowing and is the mark of a truly fantastic writer.
I would definitely recommend The Causal Vacancy to everyone because the issues Rowling raises should be at the forefront of our minds if we are to really make a difference in this world.
I rate this novel four out of five stars.