Wednesday, June 1, 2022
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Book Review:
The Casual Vacancy

This is not the book for Harry Potter fans: for this is the world from which Harry Potter escaped when he passed through the brick wall at the railway station. It is J.K. Rowling’s version of the real world: the one that cannot be fixed by waving a magic wand.

With surgical precision, she dissects the personalities of the inhabitants of the imaginary but true-to-life town of Pagford, a pretty little town, tucked away in the English countryside not far from the larger, uglier city of Yarvil. The leading characters of Pagford are like big fish in a small bowl. They rival each other and struggle to better themselves at each other’s expense. Their foolishness, foibles and frailties are ruthlessly exposed, as well as the meanness, selfishness and cruelty of specific individuals.

In particular, the writer is at pains to show us the effect that this behaviour has on the next generation growing up in Pagford, what they have to put up with, indeed suffer, from the adults in their lives. She questions how anyone could grow up to be a kind, generous adult in this environment.

Yet someone does: a local councillor, Barry Fairbrother, whose presence is felt throughout the story. The casual vacancy is created when, on almost the first page of the book (so I am not really giving anything away by telling you this), he dies.

The writing is brilliant, accurate, convincing, but it is a very sad book, especially about the rites-of-passage for the teenagers in the story. There is no lovely, exciting, challenging, encouraging and rewarding private school for these kids. They have to make the best of the grim and not so grim realities of their lives.

Just as Charles Dickens exposed the dark side of Victorian England in his stories, so J.K. Rowling invites us to ponder our own society, and question what will be our legacy.

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