J.K Rowling Returns With ‘Vacancy’
Published: Sunday, September 30, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01
Once someone has created, or starred, in something so incredibly successful, it’s not easy getting away from that reputation. What I’m referring to here is the massive popularity of the Harry Potter book and film series, as well as the books’ author, Joanne “J.K.” Rowling. In 2007, after the fifth installment of the eight-part film series, Daniel Radcliffe, known to many as Harry Potter, tried to show the world that he was more than just a wizard when he played a completely different character in the West End (and later Broadway) production of the dark and erotic play Equus, which naturally shocked everyone.
Now, it appears that it’s Rowling’s turn to show the world that she’s more than just the author of children’s fantasy literature. She’s a real, hardcore writer. With the release of her new adult novel The Casual Vacancy, fans don’t know what to expect—so that’s what I’m here for. I should start by saying that if readers are expecting anything like the Harry Potter books, they’ve come to the wrong place. This new novel centers on a small town called Pagford in England, and even though the name recalls Sirius Black’s transfigured alter ego Padfoot, this story has nothing to do with magic or an alternate reality. It takes place in the current century with all our current technology, and includes mentions of Rihanna, Facebook, texting, and computers (no more taking notes with a quill and parchment here!).
On the book sleeve, the brief description of what’s inside does not do much justice: “When Barry Fairbrother dies in his early forties, the town of Pagford is left in shock … but what lies behind the pretty facade is a town at war … Pagford is not what it seems.” Perhaps the lines that give the best indication of what the novel is truly about are “Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils,” and “a big novel about a small town.”
Basically every family living in Pagford—or at least the ones readers are introduced to—is extremely dysfunctional. Either the father is abusive, the wives hate their husbands, the children are neglected or rebellious, and so on.
This novel contains many adult themes that aren’t quite suitable for all the younglings who read the Harry Potter books. There’s sex, drugs, swearing, cutting, thoughts of suicide, alcohol—lots and lots of alcohol—and, of course, death. Rowling particularly doesn’t hold back her tongue when it comes to the swearing.
Although the book is well-written, as expected, the central conflict is really quite silly. Barry Fairbrother dies, leaving an empty seat on the Parish Council, and so various men decide to stand up and run for the position. All these men have problems, though: one beats his family, another has OCD, and another is the son of the head of the council. So what happens? Murder, deception, lies, secrets, mystery, and scandal? Nope, just their children hate them so they write anonymous posts about their parents on the Parish Council website. That’s not a joke: That’s the central conflict.
The only really dramatic storyline belongs to 16-year-old Krystal Weedon, whose mother is a heroin addict, whose little bother is neglected, and whose family gets constant visits from a social worker. Krystal is foul-mouthed and the epitome of rebellious, but she has a terrible home life, so it’s expected. Krystal is not much of a likable character, but the reader does tend to sympathize with her at times.
There are so many different characters and storylines going on in this book that at first, one might get discouraged and think about forgetting someone’s name or what their relationship is to the story, but Rowling does a good job of not letting that happen. Unfortunately, it must have been hard for even her to keep up, because at the end, she only brings together a handful of story plots and gives closure for those, but readers may still be left wondering about the lives of Gavin, Kay, and her daughter Gaia; Tessa, Colin and their son Fats, and particularly Mary Fairbother, who one would think would be a dominant character because, after all, it was her husband, Barry, who died and caused this spiral of events. Yet she is hardly mentioned.
In an interview with ABC News, Rowling said that she would classify the genre of her novel as a “comic tragedy.” The writing is beautiful and descriptive, and even though it doesn’t take readers into a magical world, it does evoke feeling like a part of the small town of Pagford, even if only for a little while.