Sunday Burgs book review
Reviewed by Jennifer Poff Cooper of Christiansburg. She is a graduate student at Hollins University.
J.K. Rowling’s first adult fiction novel, “The Casual Vacancy,” was my first Rowling book. Not having the blockbuster Harry Potter series against which to compare it gave me a fresh, unbiased perspective. I found the book to be an enjoyable read and Rowling to be a fabulous storyteller. Harry Potter aficionados, though, may find their own points – good or bad – of comparison.
“The Casual Vacancy” details the ramifications of the death of a beloved local politician, Barry Fairbrother, in a small British town. Rowling explains right away how the “casual vacancy” has occurred: A local councilor has failed, for one reason or another, to submit his name for office – in this case, due to death. The novel deals not only with the politics of replacing the late Fairbrother but most importantly with the personalities involved. It is a slice-of-life piece that perfectly captures the dynamics of living in a small town.
The pages are populated with many memorable characters – at first, seemingly too many to keep straight. However, Rowling draws the characters so well that the reader soon gets to know the recognizable quirks and personalities of each one. Most of the characters have both good and bad sides, making them very relatable.
The main characters are the Mollisons. Patriarch Howard and busybody wife Shirley are both involved with the council, and wish for their son, Miles, to “stand” for the newly empty seat. Miles’ wife, Samantha, is one of the best characters. Her snarky manner is hilarious yet she evolves away from her selfishness as the novel progresses. Other families figure into the plot and interact with one another; Rowling does a nice job of weaving them together so that no characters seem isolated.
The central conflict in the book, and in the political contest, is over “the Fields,” a poor area for which no district wants to take responsibility. The characters from the Fields are no doubt depressing, yet in some ways they are no more depressing than the middle class Pagford families who may seem traditional on the outside but are dysfunctional on the inside.
The reader gets hints as to the dark wit of the novel early on. On page 18, Shirley Mollison says of the death of Fairbrother and the subsequent fight for his place on the council: “It was all immensely exciting.” The most humorous scene was Samantha Mollison’s dinner party, which was a disaster in every way yet all of the guests pretended otherwise. By allowing readers into the characters’ heads, Rowling provides some entertaining fodder.
Rowling also provides the reader with variety. One night I was laughing about Samantha’s dinner party and the next I was appalled by the domestic violence. The author meshes the storylines so that neither humor nor seriousness seems out of place.
The novel is unmistakably British. Some of the dialogue, particularly from the lower class characters, requires re-reading to understand, and terms relating to their education system, for example, are unfamiliar. Yet, with some reading between the lines, the context provides plenty of clues for figuring out the meaning. This nuance is actually fascinating as it gives a glimpse into another culture, albeit one similar to ours.
Even at 500 pages, the book does not seem too long as the characters have plenty of story to tell. In fact, the ending seems rushed. While all of the plot lines were not wrapped up with neat little bows, that is only fitting for this novel which does its best to mirror real life. The book is currently at #4 on the New York Times best seller list.
-If you would like to be a guest reviewer, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
No Comments »
No comments yet.