It’s been so long since I’ve written that I had no idea what book I was on anymore. School swept me away in a tidal wave of busyness and novel-reading. After a couple of weeks on vacation in Arizona, I feel ready to write again and quite ashamed of having neglected my blog for so long. One of my New Year’s resolutions is to write a post once a week, which I think will be manageable, even with starting my secondary clinical.
Today’s book was the last of my summer reads and written by one of my favorite authors, J.K. Rowling. I’m guessing she’s a favorite author of a number of people because of the Harry Potter series, but the book I’m writing about is a far cry from those set in the Wizarding World. The Casual Vacancy targets an older demographic and tackles challenging issues in modern society.
Barry Fairbrother, Pagford Parish Councillor, dies of an aneurism on his way to dinner with his wife. Pagford has long been split on the issue of keeping The Fields, a poverty-stricken estate containing a methadone rehabilitation clinic, as part of the parish or turning it over to the nearby town of Yarvil. Barry’s death ignites a vicious battle for the empty seat on the Parish Council. Parminder Jawanda and Howard Mollison, two influential councillors on either side of the debate, push their own candidates and agendas. Even the children of the town become involved in this battle as they strike out against their parents, exposing their darkest secrets.
The central issue of this novel is the cycle of poverty that has become more and more prevalent in both the United States and Great Britain since the 1970s. The characters highlight both sides of the debate on how to deal with the obvious issue of poverty: to assist or not to assist. It’s no secret that some people believe that those in poverty simply need to try harder and stop being so inherently bad because that’s the cause of their disadvantages. On the other side of the issue are those who believe that everyone is inherently good and deserves a second chance.
I think that the issue of poverty has a great deal more gray area than either of those two extremes. The Casual Vacancy captures that gray area by showing characters who perpetuate the stereotype that the poor are inherently bad and characters who genuinely want to break free of poverty but are trapped by the system. What truly struck me as I was reading is how well J.K. Rowling portrays the blindness of those debating the issue. While it was all well and good for the politicians to be concerned about the fate of the poor, they debated at dinner parties and were caught up in political intrigue while Krystal Weedon, the daughter of a methadone addict, was throwing her life away to save her baby brother.
I loved this novel. Harry Potter is close to my heart, so I expected to be put off by a J.K. Rowling novel for adults that didn’t involve any wizards or magic. The profanity and vulgarity in some passages was a turn-off for me because I don’t enjoy those things in general, but they made perfect sense within the context and setting of the book. I certainly wasn’t upset enough to stop reading. I devoured it on my breaks at work and even stayed up late to finish it after 12 hour shifts at the canning factory.
I highly recommend this novel, but it isn’t for the faint of heart. It contains heavy social issues, such as rape and prostitution, and a considerable amount of profanity. Don’t let the author’s name fool you into thinking it’s appropriate for anyone under the age of 17. A considerable amount of maturity is needed to comprehend the material presented. With that caution in mind, read and enjoy.