Pagford …. shone with a kind of moral radiance in Howard’s mind, as though the collective soul of the community was made manifest in its cobbled streets its hills, its picturesque houses. Howard Mollison, Chair of the Parish Council
“A Casual Vacancy”
By Roger Childs
Heading out with wife Mary to celebrate their nineteenth wedding anniversary, popular Pagford Councillor, Barry Fairbrother, drops dead in the golf club car park. This second page tragedy creates, according to England’s Local Council Administration regulations: “ a casual vacancy”. An election is required to fill the gap and as a consequence all hell breaks loose in what, on the outside, seems like an idyllic village. In her first novel aimed specifically at adults, J K Rowling weaves a wonderful story which anyone living in or brought up in a small town, will readily identify with.
One of the world’s greatest contemporary writers
J K Rowling is one of the biggest selling authors ever. Her books have sold over 450 million copies. She is unique in the history of publishing for making front page headlines world-wide because the latest Harry Potter tome was about to go on sale in tens of thousands of shops.
The fantasy fiction Harry Potter series has been a sensation and once released the books have been eagerly and quickly devoured by young and old. Harry Potter has featured in
~ seven books
~ 73 languages, including Latin
~ eight highly successful movies.
The Casual Vacancy was J K Rowling’s first venture beyond the fantasy world and this novel about a few weeks in the life of a small town is superb. Not all best-selling authors write well, but J K Rowling is a wonderful stylist and shows a polished mastery of plot development, characterisation and vivid description. (More on this shortly.)
From the Pagford election, J K Rowling has now moved into the crowded world of detective fiction. She wanted to write under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, but not surprisingly the word got out. Her second book, The Silkworm, has just been published to rave reviews.
Back to Pagford
The village, somewhere in southern England, sits on the border of the city of Yarvil. Pagford people regard themselves as a cut above Yarvillians and are devastated when boundary changes result in a poorer area being attached to the parish. The Fields, is inhabited by plenty of welfare beneficiaries, drug addicts and down and outs, and one of the book’s main characters, teenager Krystal Weedon, struggles to survive in this unforgiving setting.
The election to replace Barry Fairbrother, centres on whether the council will be able to cut The Fields loose, along with the unpopular Bellchapel Addiction Centre.
The unfolding story is riveting as candidates line up, alliances are made, accusations fly and battles are fought. One of the amazing aspects of Rowling’s novel is the existence of over 20 main personae whose characters are all thoroughly and realistically developed.
To increase the reader’s understanding, she uses a simple, but very effective technique for providing flashbacks and background: text in brackets.
As you would expect, she is very much at home with the many teenagers in the story and some of their conversations and school antics are hilarious. However her adult characters are also finely drawn and she is ruthless in exposing their foibles, ambitions, prejudices and weaknesses.
Battles on many fronts
As the forthcoming election looms there is conflict on a number of levels, between
- teachers and students
- the teenagers
- rival candidates
- parents and children
- husbands and wives.
Throw in elements such as racism, domestic violence, bullying, sexual shenanigans, drug addiction, corruption and computer hacking, and you have a classic social commentary on community relationships, issues and conflicts.
The story ultimately builds to a stunning and unexpected climax which leaves none of the main characters unaffected.
As the publicity blurb observes this is a big novel about a small town.
J K Rowling is in great form with The Casual Vacancy and it is surprising it wasn’t short listed for literary prizes. Needless to say it is available at all good book stores and your local library.
From all accounts the detective stories are crackers too. Rowling’s storytelling gift and magpie eye for genre detail make the new Cormoran Strike novel an irresistible read, says Reviewer Val McDermid on The Silkworm.