Monday, October 15, 2012

Review: The Casual Vacancy 

The Casual Vacancy

When Barry Fairbrother dies in his early forties, the town of Pagford is left in shock.

Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, but what lies behind the pretty fa├žade is a town at war.

Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils...Pagford is not what it first seems.

And the empty seat left by Barry on the parish council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen. Who will triumph in an election fraught with passion, duplicity and unexpected revelations?

The Casual Vacancy is J.K. Rowling’s first novel for adults.(Goodreads)

Rating and Review: 4
This book is listed as Jo Rowling's first book intended specifically for adults, however young adult would not be an inappropriate category given the subject matter.

The book is set in a typical west English town, Pagford, and the chaos that ensues when a seat on the local council is unexpected vacated by the death of a town's member. There is a battle for the council seat which provides the important numbers for either marginalizing the town's poor, or helping them, depending on which side of the social strata one lies.  Barry Fairbrother, the deceased council member, himself belonged to the middle to upper class but was an advocate for the poor. His charisma helped to keep the council in check as far as keeping the poor families included in the town's purview. Fairbrother advocated for the local methadone clinic, which was used primarily by the town's less fortunate. Once his death opened a "casual vacancy" on the council board, a battle begins to control the council itself.

During this battle between the various adult factions for control of this one small village, there also occurs a battle between the citizens themselves. Children battle against violent or apathetic parents while trying to navigate the waters of adolescence, the school counselor battles for and against students who clearly need help but don't trust adults (with good reason), and husbands and wives battle against each other over years of perceived slights and secrets locked in a lack of communication and a history of habit.

Rowling is an outstanding story weaver and as usual gives an almost excessive amount of detail to each character. The attention to detail caused the book to be slow reading at times, which is why I didn't give it a rating of 5.  However, Rowling does an excellent job in defining and bringing together all the threads into a final ending. The ultimate point to be gathered from this book is that power, whether it be power over others or over one's own life, is a tenuous thing and can be easily shifted if one is brave enough to make changes.  Most people are not brave enough to make whatever changes are necessary, and sometimes the change is not as good as hoped but rather trading one set of circumstances for another. Interestingly enough, this book points out that adults do not appear to have any more control over their lives than children do. Everyone is subjected not only to the limitations of others but to their own personal limitations. Therefore power is an illusion.