J. K. Rowling is renowned for her minutiae in creating a fully functioning microcosm: in her novels, each character has a unique personality, distinctive habits and a revelatory past, clinging to his/her every word and action. Places and villages have their own identity and play key roles throughout her stories. It is common knowledge that she has written entire biographies of every single character from her Harry Potter saga, no matter how insignificant to the main story. This, I believe, is the instigator of the distinct touch of realism found in her novels, to which we can all relate, even in the more fantastical settings she has penned.
The Casual Vacancy is one of the most realistic novels I have ever read, non-fiction included. No, it is not Harry Potter. It is not full of magical incantations and fantastical beasts. It is not a suspense/crime novel either.
It is set in a small suburban town called Pagford and begins with the – natural – death of Barry Fairbrother, beloved Parish Councillor. As the town readies for an election to replace the vacant seat, unspoken wars start unraveling under the roof of every house, leading to major betrayals of trust, unfurling the town’s best kept secrets, threatening the existence of important social institutions, and inducing fatal drama in an otherwise peaceful setting…
It took me a long time to finish this book, as I was continuously putting it off to read smaller, less heavy novels in parallel… Part of its mediocre success is in my opinion due to the fact that the action does not pick up until you’ve reached page 300, at which point you cannot put it down anymore!
The intricacies of social and familial relations are truly J. K. Rowling’s forte. You cannot help but marvel at the effortless way her omniscient narrator glides through the minds of the characters in every argument or altercation. As a reader, we have access to every differing side of every story. And even then, one cannot judge a character in all objectivity, because, at the end of the day, we realize there is never right or wrong, in the absolute definition of the terms. It is as though every action has been planned in a grander scheme, to which the surprising ending is inevitably the sole converging point. A grander scheme, signed by J. K. Rowling, and featuring one of the most alarmingly realistic butterfly effects.
All in all, reading The Casual Vacancy is a guaranteed adventure into the realms of the human psyche, so I encourage you all to pick a copy from the nearest shelf! It is proof that J. K. Rowling is not just another YA writer. She can write just about anything, and I cannot wait to start reading her latest crime fiction novel The Cuckoo’s Calling, published under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith.
As for those who do not have the time or the patience to read all 500 pages of The Casual Vacancy, the book is being adapted into a television drama which is expected to air in 2014. Make sure to see it!