I hate being stereotyped. Nothing annoys me more than people trying to classify me into buckets of preconceived notions. I try to defy these but they are not easy.
I can, therefore, well imagine someone as talented as J K Rowling wanting to create something different. Not wanting forever to be known only for the Harry Potter series- as amazing as it was- Rowling may have felt the need to craft something else with her magic for words. And so was born “The Casual Vacancy”. However, I doubt that this book will ever get even close in terms of popularity and acclaim to the books about the boy wizard.
Casual Vacancy is a “big book about a little town” (Not my words- I read this somewhere but I cannot remember where- I need to start taking notes) and at nearly 500 pages hardcover, the book physically resembles any of the Harry Potter books. But that is about where all the similarity ends as everybody must know by now. Casual Vacancy paints the life of a few residents of a small town after the death of one of its prominent residents- Barry Fairbrother. In this the book follows the tradition of some of the literary masters of the 19th and 20th centuries- driven by the study of humanity rather than by a genre plot.
There is no magic in this book- definitely not the wizarding kind. The plot is firmly grounded in a grim a gritty reality but the narrative never plods. Literary magic also is a bit lacking in the book- I don’t think the Harry Potter books were ever known for their literary style and this book is no different- but that is not a criticism. All I’m saying is that if you’re looking for prosy quotes- this book may not fill that vacancy (I can’t believe I did that- just so awful!).
Critics have come out with views that stand on both ends of the spectrum- some just love it and think this is the next best thing to a Dickens or a George Eliot in a modern context. Others have felt that this is nothing but a boring attempt by a best-selling author to diversify. So where do I stand? In the middle actually- and quite predictably so.
I think Rowling’s done a great job in trying to shake off a mantle as onerous as that of being one of the most popular authors in human literary history to create a work of fiction that was as different from her earlier works as an orange is from a potato. However I don’t think the book itself has sufficient ammunition to be classified as a literary classic. It is a good read and does a wonderful job of portraying the lives of everyday people in a small town, but there is something missing. I can’t put my finger on it, others have tried- one dimensional characters, not enough literary style, simplistic plot, contrived ending, pessimism and so on.
But whatever said and done, if you have the time and the inclination (and you’re not going to be upset by a very pessimistic ambience) do give it a go!