Author: JK Rowling
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication Date: September 27, 2012
Genre: Adult Fiction, British Literature, Social Commentary
With Barry Fairbrother’s death, a power struggle erupts between the members of the Parish Council; two of the main focal points of debate were the Fields and the addiction clinic. At this point, we see the distinct line between the social classes. Fairbrother – a man who pulled himself from lower class as well as a dark past – wanted to keep the Fields as part of their town, as well as the clinic open. He believed that if given the right resources, anyone could pull themselves up and give themselves a bright future. However, his opponents did not live the same life. Their family ties to the town are long, and they were raised into a life that posed no real hardship. They cannot empathize with the people living in the Fields. These families aim to consistently represent the life that they believe others would approve of. The main families of Pagford struggle to keep these illusions and their main weapon is gossip. This gossip is what will destroy the people they claim as friends.
You can probably tell that with my rambling I’ve just finished the book, and I’m not exactly sure how I should be feeling. Overall I think it was a good book, yet at times I found myself frustrated. As I was reading, I believed that the characters she had created were so extreme to a point that she was trying too hard. I thought that by being associated with Harry Potter, she felt the need to break away, and she’d been holding all of this in for ten years and she just dumped it all into one book.
I held my reservations until the very end, because you never know if things are necessary. Some points in this book are so difficult to swallow simply because they reflect a reality that none of us want to face. It shows us that we become so self involved with our own pity and our own difficult lives that we look for a way to escape. Some search in drugs and alcohol, others release their pain physically. We are so immersed in ourselves that we fail to realize that every person around us has their own story. They too have their own suffering. We hide behind a mask that we believe that the world wants to see. And the only way we can be together as human beings with our own fears, our own weaknesses, and our own impossible dreams, is to live in truth.
J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy has easily become one of the most well written books I’ve read in my life. She has a firm grip on switching between voices, that I wonder how she can do it while keeping some semblance of style.
Throughout the novel, Rowling is, for lack of a better phrase, showing a story. It’s not how some books are where she just says “the character is xyz”. To me, it doesn’t feel as if she is merely telling us a chain of events that have happened. The characters themselves come to life and explain it themselves. Through Rowling’s amazing use of language, the character have their own unique voices – I particularly enjoyed her use of colloquialism with Terri and Krystal as well as the other residents of the Fields. We are not given everything, and I think that’s what makes an amazing narrative. The bits and pieces are not presented to us gift wrapped, and the story doesn’t wrap everything up in a nice little bow. It’s open to interpretation. Usually I hate narratives that do that. I want a final answer. I want to know what happens. But with The Casual Vacancy, I think that it’s done well enough that I don’t mind. I like it this way and I think it ended appropriately.
Normally, in most narratives, the characters are more dimensional in my opinion. There are deep seated fears and aspirations that drive them. However, in a way, Rowling’s novel takes one dimensional characters and uses them as a vehicle to emphasize the drawbacks of being content in life. The older characters are driven by their expectations. They do things because that’s the way it’s supposed to be. They do not strive to be anything other than what is expected of them. But we see the characters who are not from that town as something else. Kay moves for love and a desire to have a whole family. Samantha – not originally from Pagford – who dreams of leaving and exploring the world with her husband – plans that had to be pushed back due to unexpected pregnancies. And Terri – although originally from Pagford but living in the Fields – who makes poor life decisions because of her desire for affection and her fear of abandonment caused by her mother.
We also see Rowling incorporate a generational gap between the characters. The children – Stuart “Fats”, Andrew, Krystal, Gaia, and Sukhvinder – are shown struggling to live under the authority of their parents. We follow the lives of these children to realize that their parents’ self involvement has damaged them in ways that not many people could see. Their stories were so sad, mainly because they were the result of their parents. The mistakes and shortcomings of their parents are what caused them to suffer needlessly.
While his father Colin is a man so fearful of his nature, “Fats” overcompensates by his aggressiveness and his desire to be dominant over others. Andrew on the other hand poses the opposite problem. While he may not be as aggressive as Fats, he learns through the abuse of his father how to do the most damage without suffering the repercussions. Sukhvinder lived in the shadows of her successful family and could not live up to her potential due to her dyslexia. Not only that, she had to withstand the verbal assaults of her peers. Gaia was forced to uproot her life so her mother could potentially find something that she had been missing in her life.
And the saddest of them all was Krystal. The only people who ever cared for her were snatched away by death; and with them went her few chances to escape the path that her mother had laid out for her. Although Krystal was the saddest character, she was also the most interesting. I stated before that self involvement was what triggered the failings of their parents, and Krystal becomes the character where we see the switch. Despite her poor living conditions, Krystal still remained strong. Her rape became the catalyst to her “adulthood” in a sense. At that point, her mind begins to plot ways to get out of her home and onto better things. I did not see enough of her while on the rowing team to think that she believed that was her way out of the Fields. Unfortunately, the only escape she saw was to have a baby and to have the Walls take care of them (to me, taking her brother away too became an afterthought). The relationship between Krystal and Robbie have been more mother/son as opposed to siblings, in my opinion. So when Krystal became so consumed with the thought of having a baby and getting away from the Fields, she failed Robbie and thus became something she didn’t want to become.
By the end of it, I knew that Robbie’s death would be necessary, yet I couldn’t understand why Krystal’s was. Could Robbie’s death have driven her to become something more than she thought? Or was his death the realization that she had become her mother despite trying not to be?
In the wake of the deaths of the Weedon children, there seemed to be smaller happy endings: Miles and Samantha were finally communicating, Kay and Gaia were returning home, Andrew and his family were moving for a new start, Colin and Fats seemed to be patching up their relationship, Parminder seemed to be more attune to Sukhvinder and wanted to be a better mother, and Sukhvinder was coming out of her shell and taking charge while others were too stunned and afraid.
Despite this, what the generation of Shirley/Howard/Maureen were concerned about was the fact that Fats outted himself as The_Ghost_of_Barry_Fairbrother.
And that is a sad truth.