The Casual Vacancy, J.K. Rowling

by Jaime Grijalba.

When I finally got the chance to have this book in my hands and be able to read it I was hesitant, I didn’t know if the enormous talen that she had writing the series of Harry Potter books, that it would somewhat trascend to an adult fiction novel with no magical nor fantasy elements in it. It would surely be the ultimate test of literary worth for the british author, without the glitter and the huge world behind it, it would surely show how the words, the language and the characters would play in our world, and it would be only thanks to the work and craft of the author herself if the book is original and appealing to read as much as the Harry Potter books were. Now, after reading ‘The Casual Vacancy’ I’m not going to be the one to say that it’s the best thing that J.K. Rowling has ever written (that would be the combination of the fifth and last book of the Harry Potter series), but for something that is not magic nor fantasy oriented it’s one of the best transitions of genres and audiences that I’ve ever seen, it’s a completely new experience, filled with the ticks and nods that Rowling has got us acustomed to, but at the same time with a completely different approach towards the narration, the characters, their presentation and their weigth in the story of the little world in which they are immersed.

The novel starts and finishes with death, and it has two big multitudinary funerals with many similar elements and a closer connection than any of the other characters would even begin to muster in front of other people. This is a book that has been called socialistic propaganda because it doesn’t shy away at showing how the social differences are still everpresent even in the smallest of towns in a large country like England. The jump from the magic and child-like (or more like teen-like in the later books) environment of Harry Potter, to the adult world of drug abuse, paedophilia, domestic violence, pre-adolescent sex, cheating husbands and wives, death and disease, adolescent pregnancy, drug overdose, bullying, suicide, wristcutting… it’s just bizarre and too real, this truly demonstrates that Rowling is a person with deep beliefs in certain aspects of life, as well as knowledge of the high and the low (specially the low) parts of the human soul, life and mind. Maybe her own experiences with poverty before she managed to hit worldwide records with her best-selling franchise helped shaping the issues, the characters and even the events that are portrayed here, even if they are rooted in real modern life, they feel eternal and there, palpable, you can feel the sting in your heart telling you that this ain’t just literature.

The casual vacancy is the one that Barry Fairbrother leaves when he dies of a sudden brain aunerism, the vacancy is in the Parish Council of the town in which the story takes place: Pagford. The main issue and plots of the novel revolve around the presence of a piece of land called ‘the Fields’ that is being disputed as part or not of Pagford, and hence (due to the high poverty and drug-addiction levels) discard any aid and school attendance to the institutions in Pagford. The plot is intricate in terms that there are many characters and sub-plots going on at the same time, some more or less connected to the main political issue, and even if there’s no definitive resolve, there is a chance to take your own stand and position in the issue presented masterfully by the author. There is something out of latinamerican literature in the way that she manages to combine the consciences of a large number of characters and pass from one to another, sometimes with little to no introduction, giving a sense of confusion that is always welcome, specially when she strives away from an almost pedagogical tone that the Harry Potter series sometimes reached, in its own way appropiate to the children who read it. This particular novel is a complete triumph on my perspective, it managed to show the skills of Rowling in another level of ideas and audiences and she has come forward as an author that has certain ticks, but those are what make her what she is, but at the same time knows how to write adult voices and adult themes.

There is also a sense of unfulfillment when you finish reading this novel, maybe I just need to read it again, I was left with the notion that maybe Rowling needed more pages to fully understand the actions and full repercussions of their movements, as well as not entirely solving certain sub-plot elements that were given enormous importance at one moment of the book. I guess Rowling has learned that not everything is important, that details are always liked here and there, but that sometimes misteries don’t always make a good novel, and the biggest mistery of them all must always be the human mind and human behaviour, specially in literature.

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