Friday 10 January 2014

The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling

Reviewer: JJ Marsh, author of The Beatrice Stubbs series

What We Thought: It took me a while to get into the world of this book, but once I had, I didn’t want to leave. The characters and the village of Pagford come brilliantly to life, and not always in a good way. I felt positively murderous towards Si-Pie, wanted to slap Fats and would happily rip part of Obbo’s anatomy off. At the same time, I willed Krystal to find some kind of haven, kept my fingers crossed for Andrew and Gaia, and experienced the frustration which leads Parminder to her outburst.

The plot is expertly woven, and the reader is drawn into the petty battles, the daily cruelties, and the crushing hopelessness with omniscient knowledge. Rowling’s skill is such that she makes us root for characters such as Samantha when we are in her head, but judge her with the sneering superiority when we perceive her from an external perspective. It’s a clever feat of characterisation.

And the book works superbly as a highly unattractive depiction of the selfishness and absolution of responsibility engendered by the Big Society. The NIMBY mindset and judgemental blinkers are shown up as brutally self-serving and inhumane by one masterful set-piece towards the end.

This is a surprisingly powerful piece of storytelling, which forces us, by stealth, to care.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Kathryn Stockett, Polly Courtney, Sarah Waters, Ray Bradbury.

Avoid if: You’re expecting adult Potter, you dislike politics, you have no patience.

Ideal accompaniments: Lapsang Souchong tea, crumpets with Gentleman’s Relish and the theme tune to The Archers played by Urban Orchestra.

Genre: Literary fiction, Contemporary Fiction

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