Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Death at the beginning, sadness in the end


                "The Casual Vacancy", J.K. Rowling's first non-Potter work and probably this year's most anticipated novel, finally found its way to my hands, and I must say I'm very glad it did. As an adult fan of Harry Potter books, I couldn't wait to read her first adult novel and, obviously, had high expectations of it. It didn't disappoint.

                In Pagford, a small town somewhere in the British countryside, Barry Fairbrother, a prominent and well-loved member of community and one of the Parish Councillors, dies of a heart attack thus starting a chain of events that will change the lives of its citizens. The novel follows numerous characters from three generations: teenagers, their parents, and in some cases their grandparents. In The Telegraph there's an article titled "JK Rowling: The Casual Vacancy - the cast of caricatures" and that couldn't be further from the truth. The characters are portrayed so realistically that almost every one of them reminded me either of myself or someone that I know. And the variety of characters is great. There's a teenage boy hopelessly in love with a beautiful newcomer, a middle-aged wife unhappy in her marriage, a local businessman convinced in his superiority, a father who molests his wife and two sons, a deputy headmaster of a local school suffering from a serious illness, a girl with a heroine-addicted mother and three year old brother to take care of, among others. Rowling gives us privilege to hear thoughts of her characters, learning in that way their hopes and fears and gaining greater insight in their motivations, which are those common to most of us: love, greed, jealousy, revenge, and lots more. The numerous characters are a little difficult to follow in the beginning, but once you get to know them, their personalities make them easy to distinguish and you can enjoy the skill with which Rowling intertwines their stories.

                Apart from being a great study of character, the novel is a fantastic chronicle of life in a small town where everyone knows each other. Those with roots in the community are pitted against the newcomers, the wealthy families of Pagford against the poor ones situated in a local council estate called The Fields, and the primary way of battle is gossip, lots of it provided by angry teenagers unaware of the consequences of their actions. One of the great things about this book is the way it shows how an act with specific purpose can leave a mark on people never even considered by the perpetrator and cause things which were never intended.

                This was the first time I've read Rowling in English (I've read all Harry Potter books but in Croatian translation), and I was so taken with her writing that I could read it over and over again. The way she describes things(we get to know Pagford and most of its teenagers following a school bus on its route) and the ease with which she displays thoughts of her characters and switches between them make this book so easy to read, despite the difference in language that the characters use (the way they speak in The Fields is sometimes hard to understand but seems to be authentic), that, if you're not careful, you might miss the seriousness of some of the issues it deals with.

                As slowly as the story unravels in the beginning, as fast it rushes towards the conclusion in the end. At least it seemed so to me. That makes the novel a little uneven in terms of pace and is probably the only objection one can find to this otherwise fantastic work. "The Casual Vacancy" is as uncovered and truthful look into people's minds and lives as there is and if one wants to know something about those, one should look no further.

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