The Read Along of JK Rowling's The Casual Vacancy, hosted by Brenna at Literary Musings and myself, ends today. Well, perhaps yesterday or before, so that you've had the opportunity to compose a little post of all the things swimming in your head.
Short overview of what you'll find: An authoritative member of the Parish Council in the town of Pagford, Barry Fairbrother, drops dead, quite unexpectedly, while celebrating his anniversary with his wife. The townspeople, in shock, scramble to fill his seat so that his efforts of keeping The Fields apart of Pagford are overruled.
As I've stated before, there are many things I probably miss due to the fact that I don't really have a background in literary criticism or literary studies, aside from the fact that I've always enjoyed reading. So instead of offering a post about what I thought Rowling was really trying to convey with this novel, I'll focus more on the elements that made the novel interesting and enjoyable to me.
If I could sum up what feelings I left with after completing: The novel is a hotbed of emotion and turmoil.
Please keep in mind that SPOILERS are fair game below...
The characters each carry a burden that somehow manifests itself in every facet of their lives. Many of them are suffering, deeply, in contrast to the seemingly endless calm that the beautiful little English village of Pagford should provide. Some feel trapped, others lost, and almost all conflicted.
The cast of characters is complex and well-developed. Rowling masters the ability to create the inner of dialogue of such a large cast, which made the entire novel much more interesting, as you're seeing each characters through their own lens, in addition to that of the people surrounding them. The meeting between Kay and Samantha was probably the most memorable. You aren't ever offered a clear picture of any of the character's physical appearances, but rather tiny glimpses, so you don't really have anything to work with until you see one character through the eyes of another. And it's not just appearances that become more clear, but each individual's motives and authentic personalities. While Kay may seem clingy and clueless through Gavin's eyes, the audience finds she's very dedicated to her job and very intelligent. While she may have a tendency to overlook the obvious, and is tirelessly working on a dead relationship with an individual that doesn't offer much communication, you know that deep down her intentions are good. Krystal Weedon, another example, an individual brought up in terrible circumstances whom the residents of Pagford violently protest, is proclaimed a problem child with ill intentions, but she's only fighting to live and breath in a world that has done everything to thwart her.
There was a running theme of the us-vs-them mentality preserved by the "upstanding" citizens of Pagford. Many of the residents so keen on redrawing the town lines are actually from the Fields and try to bury the memory. The town they're so desperately trying to save from the clutches of the drug abusers is actually a place of misery for many of the players, whether they ever acknowledged the fact or not, when you really look at it. Seemingly soothing places like the lovely The Hilltop House, where the Price family resides, is a place where abuse and terror reign. The abundant hypocrisy is finally addressed when Parminder so regrettably calls attention to the fact that Howard's obesity is also a drain on the government's finances.
Rowling builds a tight community and welcomes the reader without providing many physical descriptions. While there were certain scenes that reminded me of the magic I found in the novels that first made me love her work, it's the conversations and situations that shine in this particular title.
"A misty blue sky stretched like a dome over Pagford and the Fields. Dawn light shone upon the old stone war memorial in the Square, on the cracked concrete facades of Foley Road, and turned the white walls of Hilltop House pale gold."The death of Krystal and her brother, Robbie, and the subsequent funeral, that most of the town (aside from the Mollison crowd) attends, symbolizes that the Fields are apart of Pagford. While the reader doesn't ever learn the fate of the Bellchapel Hospital, or what becomes of Andrew Price and his abusive father, or Gaia Bawden and her mother Kay, it's safe to say that things have changed dramatically.
The conclusion was somewhat unexpected and very sad. I'll admit that I wasn't really getting into the novel before the second half. I thought I'd walk away maybe a little disappointed but glad I read it. I can say that I'm glad I read it and wasn't disappointed. Rowling addressed some issues that I think everyone can relate to in some form or fashion with honesty and a little exaggeration. While it's not the most uplifting story, I would still encourage readers that are on the fence to give it a try.
Looking forward to seeing what everyone else has to say!