Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Book Review: The Casual Vacancy (Part 1)


As a member of a worldwide minority religion, it intrigued me when I heard that J.K. Rowling's first adult novel has members of a Sikh family as some of the central characters.  As someone who had surrendered her childhood to the Harry Potter series, my loyalty and interest in her discovering how she has portrayed my religious community drew me to Rowling’s book. 
For Harry Potter fans, it does not take long to realize that this is not suitable reading for children.  The Casual Vacancy refers to a seat opened up in the Parish Council of Pagford, a fictional British town, after the death of Barry Fairbrother.  For some, this opening in the council comes as a blessing while others begin towards the position in hopes of filling the new hole in the community.  Within the first ten pages, there is a vivid description of one central character which stands out, “Samantha’s dressing gown gaped open as she sat at the kitchen table, reveling contours of her big breasts as they rested on her forearms.”  Rowling continues with a detailed description of Samantha in this manner and also takes liberty in describing other characters in a similar manner.  As Rowling herself has mentioned constantly in interviews with the press, this is an adult novel.  “This is the thing I wanted to write next,” states Rowling in an interview with BBC.  She defends her freedom as a writer and claims that she did not feel the need to prove herself through this novel as a writer.  This is a story she wanted to tell. 
The Casual Vacancy revolves around issues like poverty, strained parent-teen relationships, depression, anxiety, and death, all of which Rowling has experienced in her own life.  This novel has drugs, sex, adolescent sex in a cemetery, disparity between the rich and the poor, and the disaster of small town politics.  This is in stark contrast to Rowling’s best-selling Harry Potter series, which focuses on the central purpose of Harry’s life, fighting the evil Lord Voldemort who has terrorized the world for many years.  Although dark for the most part, the seven books of the series captured the hearts of children around the world.  The Harry Potter series and brand has made Rowling the only writer to have made so much profit from writing children’s books.
Rowling has faced negative criticism for the The Casual Vacancy, perhaps because from her drift from fantasy to reality and from the mythical children’s genre to a very realist and adult portrayal of a small town.