I was startled by how much I liked this book. I tried to go into it without expectation, without expecting it to be good or terrible, or like Harry Potter, or anything. But it grabbed me almost immediately and didn't let go.
There is, of course, very
little in common with Harry Potter. But that doesn't mean there is
nothing in common. That strong sense of plot, the ability to hold a
million aspects of her story in her head at the same time, the
interesting characters, and the deft touch at dropping in details
without signposting "This here is important!" Some mystery writers don't
have that talent. Rowling has it in spades.
is dead. Sounds like it should be a cozy mystery, huh? Except there's no
mystery. There's no crime. There is only death, and the absence it
causes. And because Barry was who he was, there is the aftermath, as
friends try to cope with his death, as his wife resents the issues he
spent his life campaigning for instead of spending time with her, as his
adversaries on the local parish council try to take advantage of the
ensuing election to push through some local legislation that could have a
devastating effect on some of the inhabitants.
Who gets to call
themselves a Pagfordian, anyway? That's one of the core questions of
the book. How do we draw those lines? What do we do when people cross
those lines? How can we keep undesirable people from infringing on our
pleasant existence? How can we make it someone else's responsibility?
So many issues of modern family life are raised in this book, but The Casual Vacancy
centers around poverty. How we romanticize it. How we demonize it. How
we treat it, how we alleviate it, how we punish it. Those who merely
want the poor to go away. Those who want to help. The fucking complexity
of the issues, and the inability of simple band-aid solutions to
And I loved the characters - they jumped off
the pages at me. I loved how complex they were, and the way the story
wove in and out of different families, different experiences, and
layered on information that continually made the story more complex.
This is not a straightforward narrative. If you're looking for that,
this may drive you crazy.
I loved Krystal Weedon, the person who
stands to lose the most from Barry's death, but is seen as one of the
least deserving to mourn him. I loved how complex she was, how the story
showed her from so many different people's perspectives, and let you
understand why each person felt the way they did. I ached for her,
wished I could come up with a solution.
There aren't easy
solutions. But there are material things we can do to not make life
worse. J.K. Rowling looks at those things, and how people justify being
on different sides of the same issue. How they're motivated by personal
issues, personality conflicts and history.
This is a difficult book. But a really good one, and I'm so glad I read it, for all the gutwrenching.