Yesterday’s library run was highly successful. Four books from my reserve list were available surprisingly early! A fifth book, J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy, then leaped off the shelf with its Coca-Cola-esque font, colours and proportions, and nested itself atop my book pile. Would you resist?
Parish politics, the down-and-out, and all the struggles in-between.
512 pages, ★★★★
Set in Pagford, a sleepy town in south-west England, the novel begins with the shock death of Barry Fairbrother upsetting the village equilibrium. He died suddenly, leaving an empty seat on the parish council (called a “casual vacancy”). Middle-class characters then fight over the empty council seat, engage in online slander, and even argue with their families about it—sometimes violently so—in a petty, village power-struggle. Tension escalates as it trickles down the social ladder to those right at the bottom (Terri and their poor daughter, Krystal). Kay, a social worker, witnesses all sides of this struggle and shows us the most comprehensive perspective of this story’s tragic process.
A whopping 34 characters fill out this book. I had to keep notes on them all, and was soon drawing labelled arrows to keep track of all their ages and the relationships between them. A complex web soon emerged, which I’ve beautified and included below.
There is no protagonist. One could argue that Barry Fairbrother is the most influential character, but he dies on page three. Everyone else is of equal importance until the end.
To me, the most interesting character is 16-year-old Krystal. She lives on the local council estate (‘The Fields’) with her 3-year-old brother and their pitiful, heroin-addicted mother. Their story, and their family situation, reminds me of the 2009 film Fish Tank. Krystal’s torn between the desire to improve her home situation by caring for her mother and brother, and the desire to run away and start her life afresh. Her internal conflict ends in tears as she chooses an unfortunate, alternative end to her struggle. The novel ends with her funeral, and village equilibrium is sadly, once again, restored.
The Casual Vacancy trained my ability to keep track of 34 characters. I now feel ready to take on more complex works of fiction. Let this book prime you for the classics. ★★★★
- J.K. Rowling’s ‘The Casual Vacancy’ to Get TV Series Treatment (aceshowbiz.com)
- Review: The Casual Vacancy (jackieregales.com)
- Book review: The Casual Vacancy (booksandbabbling.wordpress.com)
- BBC to adapt J.K. Rowling’s ‘Casual Vacancy’ (variety.com)