BOOK REVIEW BY ROY E. PERRY:
“If God made the country and man made the town, then the devil made the little country town.”
The Casual Vacancy (2012), J. K. Rowling’s venture into adult fiction, describes the denizens of Pagford, a pretty little country town situated in the West Country (southwestern England), near Yarvil, a larger city to the north.
To tourists visiting Pagford, it appears to be an idyllic place in which to live. But things are not always what they seem. The town teems with dysfunctional people—narrow-minded, untruthful, full of malice and spite. News travels fast in Pagford; there’s a lot of busybody gossiping and there are ample reasons for the gossip.
A sixty-year grudge-feud has raged and festered between Pagford and Yarvil. Two bones of contention are “the Fields” (a squalid slum between the two towns) and the financial viability of the Bellchapel Addiction Clinic which, among other services, dispenses methadone to heroin addicts.
A “casual vacancy” refers to the resignation or death of a member of the town council. When good-hearted Barry Fairbrother dies of an aneurysm of the brain, candidates for his vacant office are thrown into a political struggle between those who are “pro” and “con” concerning the Fields and the Bellchapel Addiction Clinic.
Pagford is hard-pressed to elect a candidate worthy to fill the shoes of the deceased council member, especially when “The Ghost of Barry Fairbrother” makes periodic appearances on the Pagford Parish Council’s website, revealing scandalous secrets that set the gossipy network buzzing.
A central motif of A Casual Vacancy is class struggle, reminiscent of works by authors such as Charlotte Bronte, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, and Elizabeth Gaskell. One is pained by how the poor people of the Fields are marginalized and alienated by an upper class who disparage their depressed conditions.
There are so many characters in this novel—most of them human, all-too-human—that a chart of who is related to whom, and of their political agendas, would have been helpful. Suffice it to say that the characters are well-developed and the dialogue, although at times eyebrow-raising, is expertly done.
Quite different from the seven volumes of Ms. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, A Casual Vacancy is definitely adult fare. It contains off-color language and erotic “confrontations” that are not recommended for one’s pre-teen daughter (or, for that matter, pre-teen son). Mature readers may find Rowling’s experiment in catharsis more amusing than offensive.
The novel ends in catastrophe, with the tragic death of two of the main characters. It would be a disservice to insert a spoiler revealing their identities.
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David M. (Dave) Carew is writer/editor of “Underground Nashville” and the author of the novels “Everything Means Nothing to Me: A Novel of Underground Nashville” and “Voice from the Gutter,” both now available at Amazon.com and XLibris.com. Dave is also a freelance book editor, publicist, seminar and workshop leader, journalist, and advertising / marketing / public relations writer.
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Editor’s Note: “Underground Nashville” covers artists, authors, musicians, poets, political figures, and other compelling people and happenings not typically covered by the mainstream Nashville media. It also presents reflections and commentary from an underground/indie perspective, offering “thoughts from the shadows of a great American city.”