By Aileen Norris
I grew up as a “Potterhead,” a nickname for an avid fan Harry Potter series. My best friend and I would use floo powder to transport us to Diagon Alley as a kid. I almost ferociously read through every book, eager to find out what would happen next to Harry, Ron and Hermione. After the last book came out, my friends and I would discuss it during recess and hold funerals for the dead characters every other Wednesday. Now, I make Harry Potter references on an almost daily basis. I admit it’s a bit of an obsession. When I found out that J. K. Rowling was writing another book, I felt the need to read it. The fact that it would be an “adult” book did little to deter me. Still, I was a little scared. What if I didn’t like it?
Casual Vacancy truly is an adult book. At first I was shocked at what I was reading. How could Rowling, who wrote about a child growing up in a magical world full of exciting, mystical things, write about such serious topics? However, as I continued to read I realized that I was categorizing her. Rowling is not a one-trick pony. This book in itself shows that she has versatility.
I don’t think there were many happy points in the 503-paged book. The very first chapter is from the viewpoint of Barry Fairbrother, who proceeds to collapse onto the pavement of a parking lot on the second page and soon thereafter dies. As the book proceeds to describe from many different viewpoints how his death has affected different people, I found myself wincing, grimacing, and sometimes even crying. Rowling does not romanticize anything, but rather reveals the darker sides of human thought.
One of my favorite parts of the book is how everything is connected at one point or another. By changing the viewpoint often, seemingly unrelated things can come together a chapter or two later. The book becomes a distorted timeline of cause and effect.
The characters are also all unique. When Rowling says in her summary that the town of Pagford “is at war” she means it. Children hate their parents. Lovers secretly wish they weren’t together. The town itself is split on the politics of whether or not to keep the Fields, a run down area that was originally to be part of the neighboring city of Yarvil. No one seems capable of agreeing with each other. The death of Barry Fairbrother seems to amplify these feelings.
Once I got over the fact that the book was going to be tough, I really enjoyed it. There’s death, bullying, swearing, drugs, sex, underage drinking, depression, and other disturbing things. To truly enjoy the book you have to just accept that this isn’t another Harry Potter book. Yes, it’s sad, a little gross, and overall depressing, but I still liked it. The fact that Rowling is addressing issues that are sometimes just swept under the carpet really is satisfying. She almost bluntly reveals the reality of life. Although totally different from her original books, it is still a good read, so long as you’re willing to tough out the worse parts of human nature.