Wednesday, 24 July 2013

The Casual Vacancy: guest review by Jordanaan

100th post
Today marks tales from iDEATH's 100th post and also, it's first guest post. 
Yes today marks the iDEATH debut of my fiancee Jordanaan with her review of J.K. Rowling's first non-potter novel The Casual Vacancy.
If you like her review be sure to check out her blog at

A huge thanks to Jordanaan for writing this post and as ever a big thanks to all of you out there who read the site.

The casual vacancy
The Casual Vacancy
J.K. Rowling

"When Barry Fairbrother dies in his early forties, the town of Pagford is left in shock.
Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, but what lies behind the pretty facade is a town at war.
Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils... Pagford is not what it first seems.
And the empty seat left by Barry on the parish council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen. Who will triumph in an election fraught with passion, duplicity and unexpected revelations?"

The Casual Vacancy, as the majority of you will know, was J.K Rowling's first venture away from the Harry Potter series. I was, like many die-hard Potter fans, initially apprehensive. I knew I would inevitably be comparing it to the much loved wizard tale, whether I meant to or not.
Upon reading the blurb, I couldn't imagine this story holding my attention, and having struggled to continue reading past the first hundred pages twice already, worryingly my concerns seemed to come true. This time, I vowed to finish it no matter what, and I’m glad that I did. J.K’s storytelling abilities impressed me once again.

Admittedly, I found the first third of the book quite difficult to get through; it was not easy to keep track of each of the many different characters and their relationships to one another. However, after I was familiarised, and all setting of scenes had been done, I really became invested in this story.

In short, it is about a small fictional town, Pagford, which appears idyllic, but hides many intricacies, animosities and secrets. Each of the characters lives are complexly intertwined, and although they live in close proximity, lead such contrasting lives behind closed doors. Violence, adultery, abuse, neglect, even rape are just some of the issues dealt with. One thing they all have in common, is a relationship with Barry Fairbrother, who dies unexpectedly in the first few pages. We are consistently reminded of Barry through every character’s individual thoughts; asking "What would Barry do?" and thinking "If only Barry were here to make this better."
I found myself feeling constantly suspicious about Barry, wondering whether he was only seen as an angel in death, or whether he really was so good in life.

The most striking thing about this book for me was the realism. Every character (except possibly Fairbrother) was portrayed truthfully, exposed, flaws and all. One particular character spoke regularly about his quest to achieve true “authenticity”, which he saw to mean, being true to one’s desires, no matter how they were viewed by others. Such as in real life, not everyone had a life-changing epiphany or story arc; some people aren’t nice, some are selfish and don’t change, some people's lives are inexplicably terrible, and there is nothing that can be done to change it. It was quite refreshing to read something that went without cliche or any nice, cushion-soft happy ending.
It also truly spoke to me about prejudice, in a deeper sense than ever. No matter how innocent we like to think we are, we've all made a quick judgement on a person or event based on just one side of a story. Rowling, very cleverly, and often subtly, gave us various angles of every important situation and/or character, and really gave us the chance to understand how things came to be. This book really highlighted for me, just how easily any story can be misconstrued, maliciously, mistakenly, by bias. It forced me to question my own judgemental habits, to ask myself if I really do look further than appearances.
Both the honest approach to characterisation and the ability to see everything from several points of view, made it very easy to relate to and empathise with even the least appealing characters, even if in just a small way. I thought this was a very intelligent way to keep me interested as a reader.

I saw tolerance as a recurring theme. It felt like so many of the characters were close to the edge of sanity at times, ready to burst with anger or frustration, "at the end of their tether." Again, Barry Fairbrother’s angelic memory seemed to portray him as the only one who would have had the patience, the tolerance, to deal with the current issues and conflicts in Pagford.

There are many ways in which I could compliment Rowling’s ingenious storytelling from this book alone, but I couldn’t possibly cover it all.

The ending was tragic, and unexpected, it hit me quite hard, though I feel it was true to the story as a whole.
Overall, I personally feel that Rowling has accomplished what many thought she couldn’t. She has proven herself as a writer of something other than children’s/young adult fantasy. To me, no matter how brilliant, The Casual Vacancy would probably never surpass Rowling’s beloved Harry Potter series, but it has certainly confirmed my life-long appreciation for her imaginative and inspiring writing.

JK Rowling

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