Book Review Personal Library By: Chet Yarbrough
J. K. Rowling’s book, The Casual Vacancy, is wasted imagination by a talented and successful writer. Rowling takes a break from magic to create a reality-based story about societal decay. It is a story of human degradation and society’s inability to deal with human nature’s frailties; frailties that engender poverty, addiction, child abuse, and psychosis–the ills of human’ history.
The Casual Vacancy disappoints. One expects better from Rowling. This 2012’ fiction seems unlikely to be read by many, without Rowling being known as author.
Rowling introduces her story by telling of an unexpected death of a Parish Councilman. The unexpected death creates a “…Casual Vacancy”, which is a Parish’ term meaning an unexpected political vacancy has occurred, and an election must be held. The vacancy is in the Pagford Parish, a middle class community that provides some social services to the adjacent community, The Fields. These two communities represent most of the ineradicable ills of society. The required election exposes some of those ills.
The preeminent ill is poverty. It is clearly exhibited in The Fields community. Pagford Parish is populated by residents that are outwardly more prosperous but inwardly troubled by the same human’ frailties as The Fields. Family tensions are displayed by Rowling’s story. Children are trying to find their way in life. Adults are equally busy finding themselves; each deal with their own insecurities and desires. Rowling shows how families suffer from lack of attention to relationship, their directionlessness, and fleeting empathy; i.e. many parents abuse without realizing; children rebel without purpose, and families forget others’ suffering.
Rowling mixes lives in these two parishes; the mixing magnifies the human’ consequence of poverty. Though addiction, child abuse, and psychosis are evident in both communities, the reality of poverty and its consequence are life threatening in The Fields. The family described in The Fields is poor and poorly educated with a single parent that is addicted to drugs. The Fields’ family’ story ends with accidental death and suicide.
The families in Pagford Parish are middle class, and better educated. The Pagford Parish families’ story ends with a funeral. The funeral is for two deaths in The Field’s family. The funeral is a symbol of the difference between struggling poor families and struggling middle class families; i.e. a fleeting reminder to Pagford’ residents of why empathy and care for others is important. It is fleeting because the funeral is only a symbol. It is only an event. It infers societal’ change is unlikely. When a funeral is over, insight often becomes buried with the dead.
Reading The Casual Vacancy is like watching an episode of a television’ reality series; i.e. tragic or cloyingly saccharine events unfold but nothing new or enlightening is revealed. The Casual Vacancy is formulaic—event full (at least at the end), but empty of anything new; a wasted imagination.